The road hasn’t been kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. Maybe a return to Heinz Field will help.
Pittsburgh tries to avoid its first three-game losing streak in three seasons Sunday night when it looks to maintain its home-field dominance over the San Diego Chargers.
Coming off three-point losses at Chicago and Cincinnati, the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers (1-2) are off to their worst start since 2006, when they opened 1-3 and finished 8-8.
Finishing has been a problem for Pittsburgh, which has been outscored 24-0 in the fourth quarter of its last two games.
The Bears scored 10 unanswered in the final 6:21 to defeat the Steelers 17-14, and the Bengals had two touchdowns in the last 9:14 to pull out a 23-20 victory last Sunday.
Pittsburgh has not lost three straight since Oct. 22-Nov. 5, 2006.
“We have some work to do and we have a top-quality, familiar opponent coming in here that is a playoff-caliber team, and has been one perennially,” coach Mike Tomlin told the team’s official Web site. “We respect that, and we are excited about doing it back at Heinz Field in front of our fans.”
Since Dec. 7, 2003, the Steelers have won 34 of 43 at Heinz Field.
The Chargers have never won in 13 regular-season matchups in Pittsburgh, and they lost 35-24 at Heinz Field in the divisional round of last season’s playoffs.
LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) missed that game due to a groin injury as the Chargers were held to 15 yards rushing, and he could sit out a third consecutive game Sunday with a sprained right ankle. However, the five-time Pro Bowler was back at practice Wednesday for the first time since getting hurt in the season opener.
San Diego (2-1) is off to its best start in Norv Turner’s three seasons as coach despite being last in the AFC with 66.3 rushing yards per game. Darren Sproles(notes) is averaging 2.4 per carry while getting most of the attempts in Tomlinson’s place.
“You can move the ball, but if you’re going to be the type of football team we want to be, you’re going to have to run the football,” Turner said. “If you look at the good teams and the type of teams we would like to be, you see them run the ball.”
Pittsburgh has the NFL’s sixth-ranked run defense, allowing 76.7 yards per contest.
“It’s painful, but it’s something I can deal with, so we’ll take it day by day,” said Parker, who rushed for a season-high 93 yards against Cincinnati.
“Young guys have to earn their opportunities,” Tomlin said. “They have to make coaches confident with their ability to execute details of their assignments. (Mendenhall) didn’t do that to my satisfaction last week and didn’t get any playing time on offense as a result. I took action, but I don’t take any baggage into this week.”
Tomlin also can’t be very happy with his kicker.
The play of wide receiver Limas Sweed(notes) is also a concern for Pittsburgh. The second-round pick in 2008 may be deactivated Sunday after dropping Ben Roethlisberger’s(notes) pass in the end zone in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss.
“Quite frankly, he’s not catching the football when he’s deep down the field,” Tomlin said.
After throwing for a career-high 436 yards and two TDs in a 31-26 loss to Baltimore on Sept. 20, Rivers had 303 passing yards and a five-yard rushing touchdown in Sunday’s 23-13 victory over Miami.
Rivers’ run was his second career rushing touchdown and the Chargers’ only TD in 11 trips inside the red zone the last two weeks.
“When you look at the tape, I think the problems we’re having are correctable,” Turner said. “I thought we had a chance a couple of times to throw a couple of touchdown passes. We just missed.”
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