PITTSBURGH - The San Diego Chargers’ travels to Pittsburgh are filled with curiosities, a remarkable run of odd games, unexpected results and strange scores, comebacks that succeeded and game plans that failed.
There was the AFC championship game where the Chargers drew motivation from a dance video. The first and only NFL tournament. And the latest oddity, the only 11-10 score in NFL history earlier this season.
In a city where they’ve never won during the regular season or lost during the postseason, the Chargers are hoping the surprise element kicks in again during their AFC divisional playoff game Sunday.
They’re not favored — they rarely are in Pittsburgh, where they’re 2-13 — but that hardly discourages a team that couldn’t have anticipated a return trip after being 4-8 not long after that one-of-a-kind, one-point loss Nov. 16.
Going back to the chilly East Coast, going against the NFL’s top-ranked defense, probably doesn’t seem as daunting now that the Chargers, against long odds, are averaging 34.4 points during a five-game winning streak. The latest surprise was their 23-17 overtime decision last weekend over Indianapolis, which had won nine in a row.
As the Steelers’ Hines Ward said, “They’ve been in the playoffs for five weeks now.”
“When I think back to the 14-2 season (in 2006) when we had the home playoff game and got beat, you wonder if it was a little too big for us,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “I think the fact that we’ve been in these types of games now ... going to Pittsburgh will be right up there, a similar type deal. I think from a hype standpoint, playoff-game standpoint, we’ll be just fine.”
How fine? A Steelers defense led by Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison that statistically ranks among the NFL’s best in a quarter-century may determine that. Rivers was held to 159 yards passing, was sacked for a safety and the running game produced only 66 yards in Pittsburgh’s regular-season win.
Still, the Steelers were set back by 13 penalties and needed Jeff Reed’s 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining to win a game remembered for its final play, Troy Polamalu’s fumble return touchdown that was incorrectly overturned by referee Scott Green and his crew.
Talk about unusual.
Despite having a 300-yard passer (Ben Roethlisberger), a 100-yard rusher (Willie Parker) and a 100-yard receiver (Ward), and outgunning San Diego 410-213, the Steelers never got into the end zone, at least on a play that counted.
“We just didn’t finish,” wide receiver Santonio Holmes said.