- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009

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 in which 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, 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 against 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 passing yards and 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. Obviously, the score wasn’t all that was strange.

“We just didn’t finish,” receiver Santonio Holmes said. “It was all field goals. But in the playoffs, you’ve got to score touchdowns.”

Maybe the Steelers got their weird game against San Diego out of their system before the playoffs this time. In the most disappointing loss of the Bill Cowher era, the Steelers lost 17-13 to San Diego after leading by 10 in the 1995 AFC Championship game. So much for the Super Bowl dance video they rehearsed a few days before.

In January 1983, San Diego came from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers 31-28 in the NFL’s one and only tournament-format playoffs, after a players strike shut down the regular season for two months.

Those are the Chargers’ only two victories in Pittsburgh in 15 attempts.

“All the records don’t mean anything right now,” Steelers right tackle Willie Colon said. “You’ve just go to be able to match their intensity.”

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