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PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 9: Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers drops back to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 9, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The Steelers have been playing football for 80 years. Until this year, the Chargers had never won a game in Pittsburgh in the regular season (although they were 2-1 there in the playoffs).
Finally, on their 15th try, the Chargers beat the Steelers 34-24 at Heinz Field. It's the first time the Bolts have beaten a team with a winning record this season. It's far too late to save anyone's job, but it's nice to have a happy locker room for the first time since November 1.
"It's a good team win," said quarterback Philip Rivers, who threw for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns with no turnovers against the NFL"s top-ranked pass defense. "It doesn't change where we are. When the dust settles we'll still be 5-8. But, we can enjoy this one a little while."
Of course, the fact they could put up 34 points on the top-ranked defense when they couldn't top 13 the previous two weeks against lesser units has Chargers fans scratching their heads. Looking back doesn't do any good. But, it's human nature to do just that.
"You always look back," said linebacker Takeo Spikes, a 15-year veteran. "But, I've never had a conversation using the word 'if' and it wasn't good. You great conversations using the word 'if.' My main thing to the guys, I told them, we would not get on the plane after the game using the word 'if.' Leave it on the field. Don't bring no 'ifs' on the plane. And we were able to do that."
'If' is great when you say, "If you get me some ice cream I'd greatly appreciate it." It's not so good when you say, "If we'd have just stopped Ray Rice on 3rd down," or, "If we'd have not turned the ball over twice in the 4th quarter against the Bengals," or, "If Peyton Manning had just gotten arrested for being the leader of a Mexican drug cartel." Those 'ifs' are counter-productive. what is, is.
Head coach Norv Turner, who seems like he knows he only has 3 more games as an NFL head coach, praised his team for not getting drawn in to the off-field rumors swirling around the team this week.
"They've hung together," said Turner after the win in Pittsburgh. "They care about each other, they play for each other. They've not been distracted by a lot of the things going on outside. We had some things go our way today that we haven't had go our way."
The 3rd quarter is a perfect example. Heading in to Sunday the Chargers had been shut out in the 3rd quarter 5 times, scoring a grand total of 35 points.
Their opening drive of the 2nd half at Heinz Field went 78 yards on 17 plays, taking 9:32 off the clock. It ended with Rivers hitting Malcom Floyd for a 3-yard touchdown. Along the way, they converted five consecutive 3rd downs.
"Best drive of the year," said Rivers. "That one will be fun to watch over and over again. That's what we haven't been able to do in the 3rd quarter, with that first drive."
Danario Alexander caught the other two touchdown passes. He was able to do it partially because Rivers finally had time to throw, which is amazing because he was playing behind a patchwork offensive line. Kevin Haslam made his first career start at left tackle. Reggie Wells made his first start since 2010 at right tackle. Rex Hadnot started just his second game of the year. For one series, center Nick Hardwick left to get checked out and Colin Baxter played center.
Through all the turnover, Rivers was only sacked once. Not bad when you consider he was dropped 16 times in the previous four games (all losses).
The Chargers defense played a tremendous game, sacking Ben Roethlisberger twice and forcing two turnovers. Bront Bird intercepted Roethlisberger, and Quentin Jammer recovered a fumble in the end zone for the defense's 7th touchdown of the season.
The Chargers next three games are against teams with losing records (Carolina, N.Y. Jets, Oakland) so odds are they'll finish 8-8 for the 2nd straight year. Had they made, literally, two more plays during the season, they'd be in the playoffs.
Oh, what might have been...