I tried to be objective on this one. I really did. But I hate the Chargers. And it all dates back to that ridiculous playoff game in 1995. Maybe I am one of the few who will remember.
Steelers up 13-3. Then San Diego scores a touchdown with 6:57 left in the third quarter. 13-10. Then they score again with 9:47 to go - 17-13. WTF??? Alfred Pupunu?? Tony Martin?? Stan Humphries??? Gah! It pains me to think of this game. And the Chargers getting pummeled by the 49ers in the Super Bowl didn't help.
But after losing the lead, Pittsburgh, led by Neil O'Donnell, marched down the field. This I remember well. After a season where the Steelers played a conservative, run-oriented game, head man Bill Cowher goes nuts and has O'Donnell drop back to pass 54 times! That's right, 54 times! To O'Donnell's credit, he completed 32 passes and had no picks. Sadly, his last throw, from the Chargers 3, was batted down and the Steelers lost.
No bitterness here. Really. Fast forward 14 years....
The Chargers are back. Coming to Pittsburgh after compiling an 8-8 record and beating Denver on the last day of the season to seal their playoff appearance. Props to the Chargers for eliminating another team I hate. But now, after a week of indifference, I am back to hating the Chargers.
Like the other three games this weekend, this one's a rematch game. The last time these two teams met, you might remember, we had the only 11-10 game in NFL history. I'll mention Troy Polamalu's touchdown that would have made it 18-10 only to attempt to forestall it coming up again. It's done, I'm ready to move on.
So - that game. It was an odd one. The Steelers started pretty lamely, surrendering a 3-yard TD run to LaDainian Tomlinson with 6:46 to go in the first quarter. They looked out of sorts, and, just for a few minutes...I wondered.
But I needn't have worried. The Black N' Gold came back and scored a safety early in the second quarter, then closed out the half with a field goal to make the score a Pirates/Padres-like 7-5. The second half was a lot of up and down the field, netting only three field goals - two from the Steelers and one from San Diego. Jeff Reed's 32-yard boot with 11 seconds on the clock provided the points the Stillers needed for the win.
Aside from the odd score, another oddity is the fact that Ben Roethlisberger passed for 308 yards - with Hines Ward accounting for 124 of those yards - and Willie Parker ran for 115, and the Steelers failed to score a single touchdown in this game. Unless you count...yeah, I said I wouldn't mention that again, didn't I?
Beyond the TD run, Tomlinson had a pedestrian 52 yards rushing, and Philip Rivers had a game he'd probably rather forget - 164 yards passing, no TDs and two picks. He's done much better for the season, and it would be foolish to think that the Steelers will see that again.
One thing we most likely won't see is L.T. - word on the street is that Tomlinson has a g-g-groin injury (anyone remember that Cheers episode?) and won't be playing. His fill-in, Darren Sproles, had a breakout game last week, accounting for two TD runs, 105 yards rushing and oodles more yards on receptions and kick/punt yardage. Game of your life type of performance.
I think that the Steelers can keep Sproles under control in the running game, but their special teams is often nothing special. I hope they can keep that under control. Add to this Roethlisberger's concussion and Parker's injuries, and the Steelers look vulnerable. But I think the Steelers will do fine even if they have to play Byron Leftwich and Mwelde Moore. These two are more than capable backups and will answer the bell with quality play if needed.
San Diego has come on strong, reeling off five consecutive wins - against some underwhelming competition. Tampa Bay choked big time down the stretch and Denver, as I gleefully mentioned before, blew their playoff chances by losing by 31 points.
Their three games prior to that? Losses, all three times - To Pittsburgh, Atlanta...and Indianapolis. So the Chargers paid the Colts back, didn't they? Perhaps they're thinking that they owe the Steelers, now too?
Well, 14 years of hate trumps seven weeks of hate. Realistically, I feel that the Steelers should have this thing wrapped up by the middle of the third quarter. However, that is not the Steelers way. As I have watched this gallant - and heroically flawed - team over the years, the one thing that carried over from the Cowher era to the Tomlin era is the team's seeming inability to put their foot on an opponent's throat and let the blood flow.
I've seen enough 20-13, 17-13, 27-20, 24-20, etc. games in the past 17 years to last me a lifetime. When the rare blowout occurs, it's great. But - don't go to sleep on a Steelers game. You pretty much have to watch the whole damn thing to make sure they've wrapped it up.
I'm going to go out on a limb. My pick: Steelers 23, Chargers 9. That's about as close to a blowout as you're likely to see from the Steelers.
Unlike Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, I am looking ahead. And I will mention here that I am root, root, rooting for Tennessee in the other game. The Chargers aren't the only team that should feel like it owes someone payback. Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher can say that his players stomping on the Terrible Towel doesn't mean anything, and, in reality, he's right. But, football players aren't like non-football folk. They often need motivation and bulletin board material. And I know that towels and such don't win games. But it's the principle of the thing.
Here we go, Steelers! Here we go! Luv Ya Black N' Gold!