(AP) Chargers avoid mistakes, upset Steelers 34-24
By CHRIS ADAMSKI
Norv Turner looked nothing like a man who earlier this week was reportedly certain to be fired at the end of the season.
His San Diego Chargers played nothing like a team that had won only once since September.
Philip Rivers threw three touchdown passes, two to Danario Alexander, and the Chargers snapped a four-game losing streak by shocking the Steelers 34-24.
“They hung together, and I think that starts because they care about each other,” Turner said. “They play for each other. They’ve not been distracted by a lot of the things going on outside, and continued to prepare.”
The Chargers have been one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments after a 3-1 start evaporated into a 1-7 slide, That fueled speculation Turner and general manager A.J. Smith could be fired at season’s end.
The Chargers (5-8) didn’t necessarily win this one for Norv, Rivers said. And the franchise’s first win in Pittsburgh in 15 regular-season tries probably just delayed the inevitable when it comes to their elimination from the playoffs.
But San Diego dominated from the outset, never letting Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger get comfortable in his first game in nearly a month.
“In these situations, it’s easy to be distracted as a staff,” Turner said. “These guys want to have a career. They want to have a job. They want to have a chance to be successful.”
The Chargers certainly were on Sunday, playing with a focus and discipline they’ve lacked for much of this season. The injury-ravaged offensive line kept Rivers out of harm’s way and helped him convert 12 of 22 third downs, allowing San Diego to chew up the clock and keep Roethlisberger from getting going while the game was still competitive.
Right tackle Kevin Haslam made his first career start, Reggie Wells started at right tackle five days after signing with San Diego, and Rex Hadnot made only his second start of the season at center.
Also signed earlier this week, Colin Baxter was pressed into action on the line, too.
“This isn’t necessarily the team we thought we’d have on the field in December,” said Rivers, “but this is the type of performance we thought we’d put together.”
Roethlisberger, less than a month removed from a punishing hit against Kansas City that nearly sent one of his ribs into his aorta, completed 22 of 42 passes for 285 yards and three second-half touchdowns. But he also threw an interception and had a botched screen pass turn into an easy San Diego score as Pittsburgh (7-6) hardly looked like a team readying for a postseason run.
“We felt like we missed a lot of plays out there,” Roethlisberger said. “I missed a lot of throws. I threw it to them once. We all have to play better.”
San Diego took a 13-3 lead during an ugly first half that made it difficult to tell which team was trying to get back into the postseason and which was simply playing out the season.
“We’ll enjoy the heck out of this because it’s a heck of a win,” Rivers said. “But then when you have the time of reflection at the end of the year, we’ll be sick we didn’t find a way the last two weeks because we’d be right in the thick of it.”
The Chargers repeatedly pinned the Steelers deep in their territory during the first half and eventually took advantage. Playing conservatively while trying to protect Rivers behind that patchwork offensive line, San Diego got going late in the half.
Rivers hit a wide-open Alexander on a 39-yard touchdown pass and Nick Novak added a 39-yard field goal to make it 13-0.
“We obviously don’t have enough urgency, much consistency,” Steelers receiver Mike Wallace said. “We have to pick it up. We have to.”
Pittsburgh briefly rallied, getting across midfield for the first time during a last-second drive. Shaun Suisham made a 49-yard field goal at the halftime gun.
Any boost for the Steelers disappeared during the first 10 minutes of the third quarter, when San Diego converted five straight third downs during a 17-play drive capped by a 3-yard pass from Rivers to Floyd.
“Best drive of the year,” Rivers said. “That one will be fun to watch over and over again.”
The possession chewed 9:32 off the clock to give San Diego a 20-3 lead. The Chargers needed barely 10 seconds to put the game away.
Backed up yet again, Roethlisberger tried to hit Brown on a screen pass. It caromed off tight end David Paulson’s rear and rolled into the end zone, where Quentin Jammer fell on it.
The play appeared to be overturned on review. Pittsburgh’s offense ran back onto the field when referee Scott Green popped out from under the hood.
Instead, Green pulled a switcheroo, confirming the score to give the Chargers a 27-3 lead and a brief moment of joy in a year full of chaos.
Turner played like a coach who had nothing to lose. Late in the third quarter, leading by 17 and inside their own 30, the Chargers converted a fake punt when Eric Weddle took a direct snap for a 4-yard gain.
“One thing about our team,” said Antonio Gates, “yeah, we’ve been struggling the last five weeks. But at the end of the day, it only came down to one or two plays in those games we lost. Today, we just were playing the way we were capable of playing, the way we know how to play.
“To do that and keep moving forward, that speaks a lot about this team and the character of this team.”
NOTES: Steelers LG Willie Colon left the game with a left knee injury. Maurkice Pouncey moved from center to guard, with Doug Legursky replacing Pouncey at center … Roethlisberger became the 25th quarterback in NFL history to surpass 29,000 yards passing and 1,000 career yards rushing … San Diego WR Michael Spurlock had seven receptions for 64 yards, with five of the receptions turning third downs into first downs … Steelers WR Plaxico Burress had an 18-yard reception in the first half, his first catch since being re-signed by the Steelers two weeks ago … San Diego held the ball for 36:45, the most by a Pittsburgh opponent this season.
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(AP) Chargers avoid mistakes, upset Steelers 34-24