Rivers, Chargers send Steelers to third straight loss

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- With a flurry of passes, Philip Rivers beat Big

Ben, wiped away the memories of "Martyball" and helped the San Diego Chargers make a pretty big statement.

Rivers threw two touchdown passes, including a 22-yarder to

All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates midway through the third quarter

that boosted the San Diego Chargers to a 23-13 victory over the

slumping Super Bowl champions Sunday night.

Not back on track

Ben Roethlisberger
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has struggled during Pittsburgh's three-game losing streak after missing the Steelers' opener while recovering from an appendectomy.
DateOpp. (Result)TD/INT
Sept. 18Jaguars (L, 9-0)0/2
Sept. 24Bengals (L, 28-20)0/3
Oct. 8Chargers (L, 23-13)0/2

Gates' catch capped a remarkable 91-yard drive during which

Rivers, in his first year as a starter, threw eight passes in the

span of 10 plays, completing five.

"It was a little more than a win," Rivers said. "We grew a

lot as a team. We made a big step tonight."

The Chargers know there's a long way to go. But they also know a

win over the defending NFL champions can go a long way.

"They're a great team. And you know what? So are we," said

defensive end Luis Castillo, who had 1½ sacks.

"Like the coaches said, impose your will on them," guard Kris Dielman said. "I know we did."

San Diego (3-1) got its coach, Marty Schottenheimer, off the hot

seat in the process. Schottenheimer, whose conservative approach

has long been known as "Martyball," was heavily criticized after

sitting on a 13-7 halftime lead a week earlier at Baltimore. The

Ravens rallied to win 16-13.

The Steelers (1-3) have lost three straight games. They also

lost three straight late last season, recovered to earn a wild-card

playoff spot and went on to win the Super Bowl.

The Steelers were shut out in the second half and gained just 49

yards after intermission.

"I can't tell you the last time I lost three games in a row,"

said Roethlisberger, who threw two more interceptions, giving him

seven this season, and was sacked five times. "I feel like I have

let my teammates down and let the fans down. I know I can play

better and I know I will."

Rivers and Roethlisberger were two of the top three quarterbacks

taken in the 2004 draft. While Roethlisberger helped beat the

Chargers here 24-22 last year when Drew Brees was San Diego's

starter, his return was a lot more painful.

He did look sharp in directing three scoring drives in the first

half, but he also was pressured most of the night. He has yet to

throw a touchdown pass this season and finished 20-of-31 for 220

yards.

On a colorful night when the Chargers wore their powder blue

throwback jerseys and Steelers fans waved yellow Terrible Towels --

at least early on -- Rivers started slow and finally got the upper

hand.

San Diego's go-ahead drive was set up when Roethlisberger threw

long to rookie receiver Santonio Holmes on a flea-flicker and was

intercepted by Drayton Florence. The Chargers cornerback returned

it to the Pittsburgh 38, but Steelers coach Bill Cowher challenged

and, after a review, referee Bill Vinovich ruled that Florence had

been down by contact at the 9.

LaDainian Tomlinson carried for 1 yard on the first play and

took a lateral for 12 yards on the sixth play, but otherwise the

Chargers went to the air. Rivers had two big completions to Eric

Parker, as well as passes to Tomlinson and Keenan McCardell.

Gates, mostly a forgotten man this season, finished it off when

he outmuscled cornerback Deshea Townsend, then dived into the end

zone for a 17-13 lead.

"The first half we couldn't run the ball a lick,"

Schottenheimer said. "That's part of the reason we threw the ball

more."

As good as Baltimore's run defense was, "we thought Pittsburgh

was even better," Rivers said. "We knew it would be tough

sledding on the run, if you just tried to pound them. So we did the

opposite."

Rivers was 4-for-7 for 5 yards in the first quarter. He was

20-of-30 for 237 yards in the last three.

"We really didn't have any answer for them in the second

half," Cowher said. "He was throwing the ball very accurately. We

couldn't get off the field."

Roethlisberger helped the Steelers to a 13-7 halftime lead.

Willie Parker scored on a 9-yard run with 35 seconds left in the

first quarter and Jeff Reed kicked field goals of 39 and 44 yards

in the second period.

San Diego finally woke up after a lethargic start, with Rivers

leading an 80-yard scoring drive capped when 6-foot-5 Malcolm Floyd

outjumped 5-10 Townsend for a 9-yard catch in the left corner of

the end zone with 1:11 left.

Rivers was intercepted on San Diego's first drive when Ryan

Clark wrestled the ball away from Eric Parker.

San Diego's Nate Kaeding kicked field goals of 28, 33 and 22

yards in the fourth quarter.

Tomlinson gained only 36 yards on 13 carries and had eight

catches for 34 yards..

Game notes
Pittsburgh LB James Harrison injured his left ankle in the

first quarter and didn't return. Tomlinson's backup, Michael Turner, had 56 yards on 11 carries.