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Rivers, Chargers send Steelers to 1-3 start

Oct 9, 2006 - 3:40 AM SAN DIEGO (Ticker) -- Philip Rivers helped put Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in an even deeper hole.

Rivers outplayed the struggling Roethlisberger as the San Diego Chargers posted a 23-13 victory over the defending Super Bowl champions, who lost their third straight game.

The game marked a matchup of two quarterbacks from the 2004 draft class that have endured much different careers in their first two-plus years in the league.

Roethlisberger, the 11th overall pick, already has led the Steelers to a Super Bowl title. Rivers, chosen seven picks earlier, was making just his fourth career start.

It turned into a better night for Rivers, who emerged from a slow start to lead the Chargers to points on four of their five second-half possessions. San Diego had three field goals and a TD in the second half in overcoming a 13-7 deficit at intermission.

Rivers' 22-yard touchdown pass to Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates with 5:21 left in the third quarter gave the Chargers a 17-13 lead.

Rivers completed 24-of-37 passes for 242 yards and two TDs with an interception. He found Malcolm Floyd for a nine-yard score with 71 seconds left in the first half to pull the Chargers within 10-7.

"It was a little more than a win tonight, because I felt like we grew a lot as a team," Rivers said. "Offensively, we grew a lot. We didn't start off good, but then we got it going. We threw it and then started to pound it. We made a big step tonight towards where we want to go."

"He played great. He did a great job. He obviously struggled a little bit early because our defense threw so many different things at him, which is to be expected," Roethlisberger said.

Nate Kaeding had kicked a 28-yard field goal on the Chargers' ensuing possession of the second half. He connected from 33 and 22 yards in the fourth quarter.

In the second half, the Chargers (3-1) outgained the Steelers, 239-49.

"It felt like we were on the sideline the whole time," Roethlisberger said. "We'd get out there, and get a drive going, and then we'd get a turnover, or something would happen. It felt like we were over there getting stiff. It felt like on offense, we just couldn't quite get over the hump."

Roethlisberger, the lowest-rated passer in the league, threw both of his interceptions after halftime and passed for just 61 yards in the second half. He has seven interceptions without a TD in three games.

"I can't tell you the last time I lost three games in a row," said Roethlisberger, who completed 20-of-31 passes for 220 yards 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."

Roethlisberger finished 20-of-31 for 220 yards and also was sacked five times.

The struggles of Roethlisberger, who nearly died in a motorcycle accident in June and underwent an appendectomy just prior to the opener, are a major reason the Steelers are off to their third 1-3 start in Bill Cowher's 15th year as coach.

Pittsburgh already is behind Baltimore (4-0) and Cincinnati (3-1) in the AFC North.

"There's not a whole lot to say. I thought that in the first half, we did a lot of good things," Cowher said. "In the second half, we didn't make some plays that we should have made."

Coming off their bye, the Steelers dominated early, holding the Chargers without a first down and to minus-two yards in the first quarter.

The Steelers were especially effective against Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who managed just nine yards on seven carries in the first half. He finished with 36 yards on 13 attempts.

Willie Parker capped a five-play, 61-yard drive with a nine-yard run around the left side to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead with 35 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Jeff Reed extended the lead with a 39-yard field goal with 4:55 to go in the first half.

Rivers finally got the Chargers moving on their ensuing possession as they moved 80 yards in 13 plays. The march featured a 22-yard completion from Rivers to Gates on a 3rd-and-11 play to the Pittsburgh 17.

On 3rd-and-2, Rivers found Floyd along the left side of the end zone for a nine-yard score, pulling the Chargers within 10-7.

Roethlisberger answered with completions of 10, nine and 22 yards to set up Reed's 44-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the first half that made it 13-7.

In the first half, Roethlisberger completed 13-of-20 passes for 169 yards.

Michael Turner's 51-yard kickoff return to start the second half set up Kaeding's 28-yard field goal.

On the Steelers' ensuing possession, Cowher called for a flea flicker on 1st-and-10 from his own 38. But Roethlisberger overthrew rookie Santonio Holmes and cornerback Drayton Florence came down with an interception at the 9.

"I always say the first series after the second half is the most important series of the game," Cowher said. "Coming out of halftime, we talked about re-establishing the tempo of the second half and we just didn't do that."

Rivers went back to work, directing an 11-play, 91-yard drive that he capped with his 22-yard TD toss over the middle to Gates, which gave the Chargers a 17-13 lead.

Rivers had third-down completions of 16 and 25 yards to Eric Parker on the march that featured passes on nine of the 11 plays, an unsually high number under normally conservative coach Marty Schottenheimer.

"We anticipated we would try and throw the ball," Schottenheimer said. "We thought we could throw the ball a little better against this group than we did with Baltimore. I thought our quarterback did a terrific job of, once again, managing the things that we were asking him to do."

The Chargers' defense then took over, twice sacking Roethlisberger on the Steelers'ensuing possession.

After a 14-play, 63-yard drive, Kaeding kicked a 33-yard field goal with 8:59 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Chargers a 20-13 lead.

Free safety Marlon McCree intercepted Roethlisberger on the next possession. Kaeding then kicked a 22-yard field goal with 65 seconds left to seal things.

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