Nearly 29 years since the greatest regular-season comeback in NFL history, lightning almost struck again.
Leading by 28 points deep into the third quarter, the Steelers found themselves clinging to a seven-point lead late, as a defense missing safety Troy Polamalu once again collapsed down the stretch.
Failure would have matched the 1980 Saints, who blew a 28-point halftime lead in a 38-35 loss to the 49ers.
But with the game on the line late, after San Diego cut the score to 35-28, the Steelers again ripped through the San Diego defense like a broom stick against a pile of balsa wood, setting up a 46-yard field goal from Jeff Reed, who extended the lead to ten and put the game on ice.
Throughout the game, the 27th-ranked rush offense again had its way with the 26th-ranked rushing defense. A year ago, Willie Parker shredded the Chargers for 115 yards in the regular season and 146 yards in the playoffs. With Parker out due to a toe injury, Rashard Mendenhall racked up 165 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Mewelde Moore, who had only two carries in the running game, scored on a 19-yard reception and threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller. (Meanwhile, despite some pregame speculation that Isaac Redman might get some play, he didn’t receive a single carry.)
But it wasn’t only the ground game that showed up for the Steelers. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 26 of 33 passes for 333 yards and two scores.
Despite the struggles of the Pittsburgh defense in crunch time, the Steelers nearly outgained the Chargers by a margin of two to one: 497 yards to 250.
The loss drops the Chargers to 0-14 all time in Pittsburgh during the regular season. And San Diego is now two games behind the Broncos in the AFC West.
The Steelers picked up ground on the Ravens, and they sit one game behind two teams atop the division. With Baltimore and Cincinnati playing each other next week, a win by the Steelers at Detroit next week would likely vault them into a tie for second place.
Unless the Bengals and Ravens tie.
So with the Pittsburgh offense finally clicking, they now need to get Polamalu back from a knee injury. Without him, the defense simply isn’t able to clamp down on an opposing offense in the second half.