The Chargers, finishing out the string under likely lame-duck coach Norv Turner, dominated the first 40 minutes and built a 27-3 lead en route to winning in Pittsburgh during the regular season for the first time in franchise history.
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers picked on Steelers cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown relentlessly. The duo, getting extended playoff time in place of injured starter Ike Taylor, struggled against the Chargers' big wide receivers. San Diego converted 12 of 22 third downs, with 11 of them coming through the air, and all but two of them coming with Allen and Brown in coverage.
"We didn't make the necessary plays that we needed to make," Allen said. "We have to be better as a whole. We just have to be better."
Something the Steelers tend to be against the league's better teams. Pittsburgh's high points this fall have come in an inspiring 24-20 win over the Giants Nov. 4, and an invigorating 23-20 comeback triumph in Baltimore last week.
The key to those victories, however, came in lights-out defense and a hint of a running game. The Steelers had neither against the Chargers. Jonathan Dwyer managed all of 32 yards rushing, or one more than Roethlisberger gained on five last-option scrambles.
Though Roethlisberger passed for 285 yards and three scores, most of the yards and all of the touchdowns came after San Diego had the game firmly in hand.
Roethlisberger, as he tends to do, took responsibility for the lack of production though he was hardly helped out by his wide receivers or his short-handed offensive line.
Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown both watched deep balls that could have changed the game bounce harmlessly away in the first half and Roethlisberger spent long portions of the afternoon under significant duress.
Pittsburgh will continue to shuffle the line next week after left guard Willie Colon went down with a knee injury in the first half. Center Maurkice Pouncey moved from center to guard, with Doug Legursky taking over for Pouncey. Putting a line together on the fly is nothing new for the Steelers, who did it with great aplomb two years ago en route to the Super Bowl.
At this point, nobody is thinking that far down the road. And after getting plenty of help on Sunday, Pittsburgh knows it's time to start helping itself if it wants to play into January.
"Our goals are still big," Foote said. "We have to correct this thing and make a commitment."