Series boasts strange history

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PITTSBURGH --- The San Diego Chargers' travels to Pitts-burgh 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 title game where the Chargers drew motivation from -- what? -- 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 today.

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 Coast, 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 over 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 yards passing, 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 left to win a game remembered for referee Scott Green's crew incorrectly taking away Troy Polamalu's TD on a fumble return on the final play.

Talk about unusual.

Despite having a 300-yard passer (Ben Roethlisberger), a 100-yard rusher (Willie Parker) and a 100-yard receiver (Ward), and outgaining 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," wide 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 victories remain the Chargers' only two in Pittsburgh in 15 attempts.

Not letting Darren Sproles play the game he did against Indianapolis, with 105 yards rushing and 328 total yards, is a necessity for Pittsburgh. Sproles had only one carry against Pittsburgh on Nov. 16 but is taking on a bigger role in the offense with 1,100-yard rusher LaDainian Tomlinson limping on a sore groin.

"It's really hard to hit him and hard to see where he's at," Parker said. "He makes moves, does everything a running back's supposed to do, and he's small."

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