Steelers Unplug Chargers

San Diego's impressive showing in the Wildcard round made everyone forget about the absences of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shawne Merriman. Its loss in Pittsburgh, however, was a stern reminder of how much those two are needed. The Bolts ran for only 15 yards and sacked Ben Roethlisberger just once in a 35-24 loss at Heinz Field.

Despite a disappointing loss, the Chargers should hold their heads high after Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. San Diego appeared to be overmatched for much of the game, yet if not for a couple fluke plays, the Chargers may have walked away victorious.

After the game, Coach Norv Turner talked about two plays that were particularly damaging. The first was San Diego's only offensive play of the third quarter, which came after a 63-yard kickoff return by Darren Sproles. With the Bolts primed to cut into an 11-point lead, Philip Rivers' pass was tipped and picked by Larry Foote.

The second play came on Pittsburgh's ensuing possession. The Chargers defense forced a punt, but Mitch Berger's offering careened off Eric Weddle's head and into the hands of William Gay. Although the Steelers did not score, they ran time off the clock and give the ball back to the Chargers in terrible field position.

QB Philip Rivers
Gregory Shamus/Getty

"I don't know if you have any control over plays like that, but they're part of the game," Turner said.

The parts of the game the Chargers could control, they didn't. Pittsburgh controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and wore down the Chargers as the game progressed. In the second half, the Steelers held the ball for 23 minutes compared to San Diego's seven.

Willie Parker was the catalyst for that effort, carrying 27 times for 146 yards (5.41 avg) and two touchdowns.

"The Steelers had an extra week off and it helped them offensively," Turner said.

On the other side of the ball, the Steelers sacked Rivers four times to sandbag San Diego's passing game. LB LaMarr Woodley beat OT Jeromey Clary for two of the sacks, the second straight game Clary has been beaten twice.

After moving the ball with ease on their opening drive -- when the Chargers needed only four plays and 2:01 to march 75 yards for a touchdown – San Diego had to scrap for every inch of real estate.

"I can't say enough about the Steelers," Turner said. "They truly are an outstanding football team."

The Chargers have the makings of an outstanding football team, as well. The hope is that two straight seasons with at least one playoff victory will serve the team well going forward.

There is the perception by some outside the organization that San Diego's window of contention is closing, and that 2009 may be the team's last chance to break through as currently constructed.

However, Coach Turner believes nothing could be further from the truth.

"Despite what people think, we've got a lot of young players who got a chance to play this year and they've grown because of it."

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

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