Steelers Must Resurrect Fire

The Steelers host the Chargers tonight and need to play with the same urgency that worked so well in last year's playoff game. Coming off two losses, it shouldn't be difficult.

PITTSBURGH – Maybe it was the way the question was put to Ben Roethlisberger, a recognized contrarian of media perceptions.

He was asked if there was anything special about playing the San Diego Chargers in primetime on Sunday night.

"No," Roethlisberger said. "It's just another game. That's the approach we have to take."

Um, that's not the approach the Steelers took the last time they played the Chargers. Of course, that was a playoff game, and it was the first playoff game, and a game not so far removed from the thrashing the Steelers received at the hands of the Tennessee Titans.

There were questions about those Steelers, and they came out like a sledgehammer on fire. The offensive line blew open holes that even Rashard Mendenhall, after falling down, could've run through.

As it was, Willie Parker, healthy for one of the few times last season, beat the Chargers inside, outside, sometimes stopping and starting as he went inside and then darted outside, in rolling up a season-high 146 rushing yards on 27 carries (5.4 avg.) and two touchdowns.

The urgent and driven Steelers rolled up a 21-10 halftime lead that reached 28-10 early in the fourth quarter on their way to a 35-24 win, and ultimately the championship.

Parker, of course, is doubtful Sunday night for the game against the Chargers with a turf toe injury, but the urgency – in spite of Roethlisberger's reflexive answer – is needed to blow open the same holes against a Chargers defense that will be without two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams. The 2-1 Chargers are ranked 25th against the run and allow a whopping 4.5 yards per carry. A sense of urgency has to be there for the 1-2 Steelers.

"We're going to come out on fire because we need it," said right tackle Willie Colon. "We gashed them because of our tempo and our mindset and we need that back. We're used to winning around here. You catch two Ls in a row and it makes the whole atmosphere miserable around here."

The Steelers are expected to start Mendenhall in Parker's place. The 2008 first-round draft pick has shown flashes, and should also come into this game highly motivated and prepared after being benched last week for his lackadaisical approach after a making a couple of big plays the previous week. If Mendenhall doesn't show sparks, Mewelde Moore, the third-down back who gained 99, 120, 84 and 57 yards in four starts last season, is ready.

Defensively, the once-proud Steelers spent this week reading that they're too old to hold fourth-quarter leads. One popular headline of a syndicated story read: "Losing Leads Getting Old – So Are Steelers." It was an easy story, particularly since 33-year-old Aaron Smith just missed a sack and 34-year-old James Farrior was a step late on the tackle during the key 4th-and-10 conversion pass to Brian Leonard that set up the Bengals' game-winning touchdown.

"We pretty much dominated for three quarters," countered Smith.

But, it could also be viewed that the Steelers were too old and tired to finish.

"And that didn't happen last year?" Smith asked. "Heck, that happened my fifth year here.

"You know, I did an interview with (Phil) Simms before the game. He said, ‘Oh, you old guys are something.' I said, ‘Whoa, what do you mean old guys? And he said, ‘Do you know what old means? It means you're good. You don't get to be considered old unless you're good.' And that's a good way of looking at it. You don't last in this business unless you're worth anything."

Either way, the Steelers will be putting their reputations on the line tonight against a Chargers team that's averaging only 2.8 yards per carry, although they could be helped by the return of running back LaDainian Tomlinson from an ankle injury.

Tomlinson, though, is 30 and struggled with a turf toe injury last year, when he gained only 57 yards (3.2) against the Steelers in the regular season. He did not play in the playoff game.

The Chargers have instead become a passing team – a deep passing team. They're second (by a tenth of a yard) in the league with an average reception of 14.8 yards. In fact, it was Vincent Jackson who put the Chargers on top of the Steelers in the playoff game with a 41-yard touchdown catch of a perfect Philip Rivers pass with Ike Taylor in near-perfect coverage.

"A lot of times they're covered. Jackson's covered. Antonio Gates is covered," said free safety Ryan Clark. "For those big guys, it's about body position. You may be stride for stride, but if they have inside leverage on you, Philip Rivers is going to keep that ball inside and you're going to have to go through them to make the play. That's tough to do with big receivers. That's what they're doing."

They're also throwing deep regardless of scheme, and that excites Clark and the rest of the Steelers' defenders. Rivers won't attempt to dink and dunk the Steelers to death. He'll take his big drops and take his chances.

"With that downfield passing, you do have to block our guys," Clark said. "I think our guys are really itching to get back there, James (Harrison) and LaMarr (Woodley), so hopefully we can create some pressure and get some turnovers. I think that's the big difference from our defense last year to this year: getting a sack, forced fumbles, those guys causing havoc back there."

And playing with unbridled urgency.

"Obviously you can't create that same playoff environment. That's impossible," said Smith. "But to be honest with you, we're going to have to play with a sense of urgency the rest of the season. And that's really not a bad thing. It's the way to go sometimes. We've dug ourselves a hole and now we're got to dig ourselves back out."

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