The game wasn't nearly that close, as the Chargers stumbled from the start and found themselves behind 28-0 midway through the third quarter.
"I give Pittsburgh a lot of credit for their execution," coach Norv Turner said.
But this was more than the Steelers hitting on all cylinders. It had just as much to do with the Chargers playing their worst game of the young season.
"We were in position to make plays or make tackles and we did not," Turner said. "And then when you get into a game like that that has four or five plays that ended up being big plays where we had guys trying to do something different than their jobs -- getting themselves out of position or not covering a guy they should be covering or coming in on a blitz on the wrong gap -- that compounded the problems we had."
The Chargers' list of what's wrong is lengthy.
They can't run the ball, which speaks to the No. 32 ranking.
They can't stop the run, which speaks to their No. 28 ranking.
But for one week, the Chargers can concentrate on getting better instead of preparing for another opponent. That will come soon enough, though, when they return to play against the AFC West-leading Broncos on Oct. 19.
"We are in Week 4, and we had a pretty good stretch against good football teams," Turner said of a slate that included Oakland, Baltimore, Miami and Pittsburgh. "I expected us to play better than we have.
"The bye comes at a good week, and it will give us an opportunity to regroup, look at the things we didn't do as well as we need to do and fix them."
LB Kevin Burnett
--The Steelers offense toyed with the Chargers in Sunday's game. "The stats speak for themselves," inside linebacker Kevin Burnett said. "It felt like they ran for 400 yards on offense. We couldn't stop them. They couldn't be stopped. I think that says enough." The Chargers were abused for 32 first downs and 497 total yards.
--If nothing else, quarterback Philip Rivers took solace in knowing the Chargers gave their rally a valiant effort. "When you find yourself down 21-0 on the road, the odds are against you," he said. "We've won games after being down, so there was no quit. We fought back as hard as we could and at least made it uncomfortable for them. We didn't finish the job, so obviously we're not happy about this."
--Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman continues to be hobbled by a groin strain. He played in only a handful of plays for the second consecutive week. "Those things don't heal overnight," he said. "I made the decision to play in this game, and I'll use the bye week to heal up and get ready for the next game."
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson, playing in his first game after missing two with an ankle injury, came out of Sunday's contest in good health.
--RG Louis Vasquez reported no fallout from playing in his first game in three weeks. He had been out with a knee injury.
--CB Antonio Cromartie, in a tweet after the game, blamed the Chargers employing a zone defense for the reason his game was off in the loss at Pittsburgh.
--DE Luis Castillo (arm) will be limited in practice this week.
--DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo (ankle) will not practice this week.
--DE Jacques Cesaire (calf) will be limited in practice this week.
--WR Malcom Floyd (shoulder) will be limited in practice this week.
--OLB Shawne Merriman (groin) will be limited in practice this week.
--OLB Shaun Phillips (calf) will be limited in practice this week.
--TE Kris Wilson (wrist) will be limited in practice this week.
--ILB Stephen Cooper (knee) is out for the week.
--C Scott Mruczkowski (knee) will not work this week.
--DE Travis Johnson (groin) will not practice this week.
REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS
QB Philip Rivers
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- This should really be an incomplete, as it's tough to tell about the Chargers' running game after the team fell behind 28-0 early in the game. LaDainian Tomlinson returned after missing two games but got only 15 yards on seven carries. Hard to believe but the Chargers rushed for only 16 yards on eight attempts -- part of that was the score, part of that was the line being manhandled.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- Antonio Cromartie is getting picked on -- not occasionally, but every game. He has gone from a Pro Bowler to a liability in a remarkable short span. Ben Roethlisberger threw with ease in picking the secondary apart for 33 yards and two scores. The Chargers had three sacks, including the first of the season by an outside linebacker. But there are some real issues here.
RUSH DEFENSE: F -- What an embarrassment. A second-string runner went for a career-high 165 yards and two scores on 29 rushes. The San Diego line was punished up front, leaving it to the linebackers to try to tackle runners after they had picked up a head of steam. It's hard to overstate just how bad the Chargers were in stopping the run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Jacob Hester gave the wobbly team a brief breath of fresh air when he stripped the ball and returned it 41 yards on a Pittsburgh punt return. Darren Sproles had a 42-yards kick return, and for the most part, the coverage units were keen, too.
COACHING: F -- The Chargers, once again, were not prepared to start a game and fell behind -- too far this time. The players aren't buying into the defensive assignments, and it shows. The offense is still searching for a running attack. Norv Turner has his hands full in righting this ship -- a ship that is listing more than the 2-2 record might reveal.