2:40 p.m.: Hello everyone from Heinz Field, where Old Man Winter is making his presence felt pretty early. While there is no snow or any type of precipitation here, the wind is pretty strong and it feels like football in mid-November. Give credit to the fans. They actually pay to sit in this weather. I was in State College yesterday for the Penn State-Indiana game on official business, but was amazed that they had a bit more than 100,000 fans in the stands in miserable weather. Just shows fans come out when you're winning. Or they are just crazy loyal.
Kick off is about 90 minutes away from the Chargers-Steelers kickoff and we'll be updating throughout the game. Our next update will be when the inactives are announced. As always, your comments go a long way toward making this blog a success. It's a great way to discuss the game while onging. So I hope to hear from you and all of Steeler Nation.
3:07 p.m.: Here are today's inactive players. For the Steelers: CB Bryant McFadden, CB Deshea Townsend, LB Bruce Davis, OL Tony Hills, OT Marvel Smith, TE Heath Miller, DE Orpheus Roye and QB Dennis Dixon (3rd QB). For the Chargers: CB Cletis Gordon, SS Steve Gregory, RB Michael Bennett, OG Kynan Forney, WR Buster Davis, TE Kris Wilson, DT Ian Scott and QB Charlie Whitehurst (3rd QB).
Max Starks will contine to start at LT for Smith. Matt Spaeth will start at TE for Miller and William Gay will make his firt career start for Townsend. Gay likely will be tested early by the Chargers. Philip Rivers is having a good season and he has plenty of outside targets in Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson (6-5 and 230 pounds) and Malcolm Floyd. TE Antonio Gates is also a Pro Bowl type receiver. Oh yeah, and they have LaDanian Tomlinson, too.
3:45 p.m.: One very large blizzard here right now. Wow, amazing stuff. The fans are loving it, at least they are cheering for it. you can't see the city skyline from here, which gives you a good idea of what's going on. I'm sure the Chargers would prefer their fair city right about now. Considering the Steelers are 12-0 at home against the Chargers in the regular season, the snow just may add to their misery.
4:00 p.m.: Pretty cool scene with the snow-covered field. Reminds me of 2005, when the Bears came to town with their great defense and the Steelers, behind a 100-plus-yard day from Jerome Bettis, defeated Chicago on their way to winning their final four regular-season games. Then running the table all the way to Super Bowl XL in Detroit. I think pounding the ball today will be a key in these condidtions. And the snow's still coming down.
4:16 p.m.: Just for the record, I'd keep it away from Darren Sproles, too.
4:21 p.m.: I don't think you'll see a better interception, if it holds up to Norv Turner's challenge. Just a tremendously athletic play by Troy Polamalu. On this kind of day with these conditions, that's a play that is on every highlight show tonight. And the value of getting an early turnover is crucial. San Diego's offense hasn't been their problem this year and not the reason for their 4-5 record thus far. So getting them into a hole early would be crucial. Let's see if the replay holds up.
4:26 p.m.: OK, I'll say it. If Ben leads Holmes on that throw, it's a TD. Yet another underthrow, and followed by a sack. I can appreciate the Steelers taking a deep shot on first down, but if he can't throw that pass for whatever reason, why do it? Nice check-down to Mewelde Moore, but not enough. Tough to ask Jeff Reed to make a 51-yard FG on this day. A nice hold by a suspect Chargers defense.
4:35 p.m.: When I saw Brandon Manumaleuna make that catch, all I could do was think of the 1994 AFC Championship and Alfred Pupunu, another No. 86 that destroyed the Steelers dream of going to a Super Bowl. The Chargers won that day, 17-13, after coming in as heavy underdogs.
4:38 p.m.: They announced Ryan Clark, but Ike Taylor committed the pass interference penalty that led to Tomlinson's 1-yard TD run. Well, the Steelers defense gave the offense a chance to grab an early lead, but they failed. Now the Chargers offense has gone to work. Time for Big Ben and the boys to get rolling. With 6:46 left in the first quarter, Chargers 7, Steelers 0.
4:46 p.m.: If Spaeth can't come back, the Steelers are down to Sean McHugh at tight end. As much as OC Bruce Arians likes to use tight ends, he's pretty much out of options at this point. Looks like the Steelers best offense today is Willie Parker. It's that kind of day, anyhow. Looks like the guards, Darnell Stapleton and Chris Kemoeatu, are having good days blocking.
4:55 p.m.: If you are going for it on 4th down, why not have your best RB in the game and not the third-down back? That's twice now that the Steelers offense has failed to get points when they should have. The Chargers defense is beatable, but by taking a second-down sack and then not scoring on a third-and-a-foot, you let them think they are better than they are. It seemed that the Steelers were rushed on that goal line play and they came to the line with less than 10 seconds left on the play clock. That quarter was not the best for the Steelers, was it? End of the first quarter, Chargers 7, Steelers 0.
5:00 p.m.: Leave it to the defense and James Harrison to get the Steelers started in the right direction. Great play by Harrison who didn't look to go for the sack as he did for the ball. Great play by a Pro Bowl player. The only bad outcome was the defense couldn't get a TD out of it. But points are points, right? With 14:46 left in the first quarter, Chargers 7, Steelers 2.
5:02 p.m.: The Eagles and Bengals played to a 13-13 tie today. It's the first tie in the NFL since Nov. 10, 2002, when the Steelers and Falcons tied 34-34 at Heinz Field. The Bengals missed a late field goal in overtime that could have given them their second win of the season. And that tie may come back to haunt the Eagles in the tough NFC East.
5:10 p.m.: Ugly stuff up front on that series. The Ward holding penalty is almost fatal for this offense and no one touches Jacques Cesaire on that third-down play. You can't blame Roethlisberger for that one. Lousy punt by Paul Ernster, giving the Chargers offense great field position. You keep seeing the Steelers offense blow chances and stall and this is a three-game trend. At some point, you have to start to wonder if the problems lie much deeper than a Ben that's less than 100 percent.
5:17 p.m.: When you think about how good LaMarr Woodley is going to be in the NFL, just remember that last play. He was covering a WR about 12 yards down field, then he makes a lunging play to break up the pass. He's been such a good player this year and he just made a big play to halt San Diego. The offense has to get going soon, bad field position or not. This quarter is nearly half over.
5:24 p.m.: You can't get a foot? Your left side, despite the $7 million tackle, has not been your best side to run to all game. On the right, you have been having success the entire game. So you go left when you need a foot? Speaking of feet, or foots, Anthony Smith just shoots himself and his team in the foot, giving the Chargers an extra 15 on the fair catch interference. So you let them start on the 40 instead of the 25. This game has that ominous feel to it.
5:28 p.m.: First of all, why when you need 2 yards for a first down at midfield, do you run right at Aaron Smith and LaMarr Woodley? Once you got hammered for a 3-yard loss, you then open yourself up to a defense that knows how to rush the passer pretty well. But as bad as the offense has been for the Steelers, maybe you think just winning the field position battle is enough. We'll see if the offense can get out of this hole.
5:32 p.m.: The offense just looks out of sync and flat. And this isn't an anomaly, it's a trend. These aren't the best of conditions, but come on, this defense isn't that good. Fans here are booing the offense off the field, but you can't go for it on fourth-and-short at your own 23. It's the two-minute warning and what you want to do here is try to pin the Chargers a bit deep and go in no worse than you are now. By the way, Paul Ernster has done nothing but launch ducks today. So much for pinning San Diego deep.
5:40 p.m.: If not for the defense, and James Harrison in particular, this game could be a lot worse. Poor pass by Rivers, but another big play by Harrison setting the offense up for a chance to get some points. Plenty of time left. One press box comment about Harrison: "Put him on offense." Not a bad thought.
5:47 p.m.: I guess when your offense is struggling you take what you can get. A Reed field goal to end the half at least gets you within a field goal of taking the lead. James Harrison is responsible for all of the Steelers points this half, either directly or indirectly. The Steelers have to hope that this late score translates into a bit of momentum for the second half. Halftime, Chargers 7, Steelers 5.
6:02 p.m.: This stat gem from press box neighbor and columnist Gene Collier: The Steelers were penalized seven times in the first half for 65 yards. They have played only two games this year where they've had more penalties (8 and 10). They are well on their way to passing those marks with their first half performance. Other stats: Roethlisberger 19 of 23 for 189 yards and a passer rating of 100.9. Parker 11 rushes for 46 yards. Steelers dominate time of posession, 18:36 to 11:24. The only difference is the Steelers aren't letting the stats speak on the scoreboard. On to the second half.
6:07 p.m.: Promising drive and thankfully, they ran to the right on the third-and-one play with Gary Russell getting the first down. A near pick on that deep pass should dissuade too much of that thinking. The intermediate stuff and check-downs seem to be working. We'll see if they stick with it.
6:13 p.m.: Holmes should make that catch, but the offense does enough to get the ball down there for a Reed FG. I guess you take what you can get when your offense is having trouble getting to paydirt. The drive consumed 6:19 off the clock, which means the defense is well-rested. It looks like the offense has found some stuff that will work, but now the problem is when they get down close, they can't put it in the end zone. But at least they have the lead. With 8:41 left in the third quarter, Steelers 8, Chargers 7.
6:22 p.m.: The screen pass was a great call on this drive and this is what you get when you let the Chargers offense out of the hole. The defense, which has played well all day has to hold here. If they did, they'd be keeping this a game of field goals.
6:24 p.m.: Nate Kaeding isn't a bad kicker, but that was a brutal kick. Great hold by the Steelers defense to preserve the lead. Now if the offense wants to do its part, it'll take the ball and move it for a big score against this defense. You have to figure at one point the Chargers are going back down the field for a score. So every posession needs some points if you're the Steelers.
6:30 p.m.: As poor as the offense has played, Willie Parker and Matt Spaeth, who was out for a few plays in the first half, have played really well. Parker is so good at cutting in the hole. I can remember a few weeks back when folks were calling for Mewelde Moore even after Parker got healthy. The Steelers are much better with Parker as the lead dog and using Moore to spell him and on third downs. And even Gary Russell looks strong today. Good drive so far.
6:35 p.m.: Big third-down play coming up here, but we mark the end of the quarter. Not the prettiest of quarters, or of football games for that matter, but the Steelers will take it. The Steelers now lead in time of possession, 29:16 to 15:44. This game should not be as close as it is. End of third quarter, Steelers 8, Chargers 7.
6:37 p.m.: Paul Ernster is having a terrible day. He nearly punted that ball into the first row of stands. It's inside the 20, but really, you have to do better than that. There is always a standard announcement before every game in every NFL press box warning that there is no cheering or disparaging remarks allowed in the press box. As you can imagine, one of those is followed strictly. The other is pretty much ignored, though it's not rampant, it's usually done pretty much on every poor play. It's some of the funniest stuff you never hear. For instance, on Ernster's punt, one guy in the box said: "I think it's out on the 33." Good stuff.
6:47 p.m.: Critical set of down for the Steelers defense. If they can forced a FG attempt, that's a win for the defense at this point. A TD, with the way the offense has been playing could be fatal.
6:48 p.m.: Huge conversion to Vincent Jackson. Time for a goal-line stand. But now they can run the clock down. It'll be under seven minutes soon. Big stop time.
6:55 p.m.: A field goal, considering the Chargers were at the 5 on first down, is a victory for the Steelers. That drive ate up more than seven minutes. An excellent job by the Chargers. But now the Steelers offense must come up with a critical drive. They could not against the Colts last week and they have to do that here if they want to keep from dropping a third straight at home. This drive will say a lot about the offense and where this team goes this year. We'll see. With 6:41 left in the fourth quarter, Chargers 10, Steelers 8.
7:03 p.m.: One question: Where's this been all day? Hines Ward is now over 100 yards for the game. It's the 18th game over 100 yards receiving for Ward in his career.
7:09 p.m.: Two-minute warning. Best drive of the day and now it's important that they hold on to the ball for as long as they can. Actually, one has to wonder if this hasn't been there all day and an inability to make big plays as well as some very untimely penalties have prevented the Steelers from dominating. They will have a 100-yard rusher, 100-yard receiver and a 300-yard passer and may win this game by a point. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Still a lot of game to play and the Steelers still trail, 10-8.
7:16 p.m.: Killer penalty, and I believe the Steelers 13th of the game. That's why they have all this offense and only 8 points. Gotta kick now, on third down.
7:19 p.m.: If this holds up, and I suspect it will, it will be the first NFL game in history (12,837 games) that finished 11-10. That's being reported now by CBS and thanks to Ken "Stats" Wunderley, Blog 'N Gold has it now.
7:25 p.m.: Final score, Steelers 11, Chargers 10. How in heaven's name do you have that much offense and score 11 points? If not for the defense's safety, the Steelers lose 10-9. Weird, weird game. From start to finish. Really strange karma coming from the game, but the bottom line, Steelers are 7-3 and atop the AFC North. I'm headed to the locker room, and I'll have some final thoughts on this one. Oh, and forget that item about the first-ever 11-10 finish. Strange game. By the way, the line was Steelers by 5. Hmmmm.
9:05 p.m.: Now that the dust has settled on this bizarre game, my first item about the only 11-10 finish of an NFL game stands. Upon further review. I'd changed that item when it looked as though Troy Polamalu's fumble return for a TD would count. But as we all know by now, it didn't. A pool reporter (Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review) was sent in to talk with the officials about the final call. Here's a transcript of his interview with head referee Scott Green:
Q: Final play of the game.
A: "There were several passes. The first pass was illegal, an illegal forward pass. The second pass was backwards. The rule that kills the play is if it hits the ground. There was som econfusion on which illegal forward pass we we rdiscussing and it was decided that the illegal forward pass hit the gound and that would have killed the play and ther ewas no time remaining so that would end the game."
Q: The ball was dead once it hit the ground?
Q: What is the process of reviewing this?
A: "The normal review was a minute. You have a minute to look at it on the screen. The first pass was the one that was illegal but it only kills the play if it hits the ground. That was incorrect to have killed that at that point. The ruling should have let the play go on. That's just the way that it played out. We believe the second pass was legal."
Q: So the play ws ruled dead because the first pass hit the ground?
A: "That's what we ruled but it didn't hit the ground because it was thrown forward. The rule is if he possesses it you can let the play go on. If he drops it or it hits the gound then you kill the play."
Q: So if the first pass didn't hit the ground why was the play killed?
A: "We didn't kill it on the field. After discussion we decided ... there was some confusion over which pass we were talking about and it was decided that it was the second pass that was illegal that did hit the ground and therefore we killed the play there."
Q: But the second pass was legal?
A: "I know. The rule was misinterpreted."
Q: So it should have been a touchdown?
A: "We should have let the play go through in the end, yes. It was misinterpreted that instead of killing the play we should have let the play go through."
Thoughts from this game:
-- The offense put up a lot of yards but not a lot of points. It finished with 410 net yards. But they were 0-for-3 in the red zone as far as scoring touchdowns and were 7-for-14 on third-down efficiency. Odd to put up those numbers and score only 9 points. But let's look at penalties.
-- The Steelers were penalized 13 times for 115 yards. The Chargers twice for five yards. Mike Tomlin was not a happy camper at the press conference. "I don't want to talk about the officiating. I won't talk about 13-to-1 (actually 13-2) penalties." He didn't, but they certainly played a role in this game.
-- Goal line offense. Twice the Steelers were inside the 5 and twice they didn't score TDs. On a fourth-and-goal from the 1 late in the first quarter, Mewelde Moore was stuffed when the left side of the Steelers line was blown up by the Chargers. Then, on the final drive, Willie Parker scored an apparent TD that was called back on a holding penalty by TE Sean McHugh. It led to the game-winning field goal from Jeff Reed, but once again, the Steelers were denied a TD.
-- Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball 41 times, completing 31 for 308 yards, no TDs and no INTs. His passer rating was 96.4. Philip Rivers, who led the league with a rating of 106 coming into the game, had a rating of 43.6 today.
-- The Steelers defense was its usual rugged self against the run, surrendering only 66 yards on 22 attempts on the day. Willie Parker's return to the lineup was good for 115 yards on 25 carries. And Gary Russell, who ran only twice for 10 yards, was cited by Tomlin after the game for his hard running and kickoff returns (avg. was 20.3 yards per return). It appears from what Tomlin said postgame that Russell may be used as the goal-line back. We'll see.
-- Looking ahead. Not a lot of time to try to sort out this odd game. The Bengals are in town on Thursday to end this three-game home stand. The Bengals are fresh off a 13-13 tie with Philadelphia today, and are playing much better these days. If the Steelers can get that one, they'll be 8-3 overall, 6-1 in the AFC and 3-0 in the division. So the Thursday game is huge for tiebreakers.
After the Bengals come calling, the Steelers start a very tough stretch. On Nov. 30, they travel to Foxboro to play the Patriots. One week later, they are back at Heinz to host Dallas. Then, and you can circle these two on your calendar, Dec. 14 at the Ravens and Dec. 21 at the unbeaten (for now) Titans. The Steelers close out the season at home against the Browns.
If the Steelers can split the final six, going 10-6, they should be able to close out the division and get a favorable playoff spot. The conference record will be important. Here's how the challengers look after this week: Jets 5-3, Dolphins 5-3, Ravens 6-3, Titans 7-0, Colts 5-2. No one else is better than 4-4.
That's it for now. Thanks for the comments and keep them coming. We'll be blogging live from Thursday's game, too.
10 p.m.: Hey folks, this is getting to be a really lively discussion of the game, the officiating and what's wrong with the Steelers. But if you have a complaint about something or someone that really doesn't belong in a blog about this game or the Steelers, keep it to yourself, please. We've got a great discussion from most of the posters about this game and how things look for the Steelers. I want to keep that going and personal criticisms should be left out. I appreciate your help on this.