Two weeks after the Steelers fumbled eight times in a 20-14 loss at Cleveland, they fumbled away another great opportunity to catch the Ravens in the AFC North race in a 34-24 thrashing by the San Diego Chargers.
It was the same Chargers franchise that never won a regular season game in Pittsburgh before Sunday.
In one sense, the Steelers (7-6) caught a break as Dallas defeated Cincinnati 20-19 in dramatic fashion in Week 14, and Baltimore lost in overtime to Washington. With three games remaining, including one against the Bengals, the Steelers maintain positioning for the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs due to their victory over the Bengals in Week 7.
The real loss here is the fact the Steelers had a chance to pull within one game of the slumping Ravens in the AFC North race. Instead, at 7-6, they'll have to capitalize on any future opportunity to make up ground in the dwindling hope of hosting a playoff game.
The Bengals stay within two games of the Ravens as well, with those two teams play each other in Week 17.
San Diego's 34 points were the most scored against the Steelers in Pittsburgh since the Patriots won 39-20 in Week 10 of the 2010 season, and the 17-point losing deficit was the second largest at Heinz Field in the Mike Tomlin era (2007 to present).
The return of Ben Roethlisberger did nothing for the regressing Steelers offense, as a disastrous first half led to just three points after taking loads of pressure from an aggressive Chargers game plan.
San Diego's offensive line was supposed to be the battered of the two units, but the Steelers front five looked as miserable as they have at any point this season. Losing left guard Willie Colon in the second quarter shifted Maurkice Pouncey from center to left guard, and brought in Doug Legursky, but the result wasn't an improvement or a detraction.
A lack of protection or anything resembling a crease in the overwhelming Chargers' front seven mauled any game plan the Steelers may have had. Even in times when Roethlisberger had time to throw, dropped passes ruined the moment.
The Steelers defense held tough on first and second downs, but a slew of third down conversions, reminiscent of the Steelers' 24-20 loss to Baltimore in 2011, doomed them to the most points they've given up since a 34-31 loss at Oakland in Week 3.
While somewhat competitive at the half at 13-3, the Chargers mounted an impressive 17 play, 78-yard drive that resulted in a Phillip Rivers to Malcom Floyd three-yard touchdown pass. It was Rivers' second of the game.
The Steelers took a penalty on the ensuing kickoff, putting them deep in their own territory - a recurring theme in this game. On the first play, Roethlisberger's pass intended for Antonio Brown was ruled to be behind the line of scrimmage, thus a fumble. It was recovered by Quentin Jammer in the end zone for a touchdown.
Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace on a 40-yard touchdown pass on the following drive, moving the score to 27-10. While it was a nice throw and catch, it was the perfect metaphor for this game - the Steelers made a play or two, but the Chargers dominated the game physically, and won each play through attrition.
That was a trademark the Steelers have long since prided themselves on being that team, it was far from it in Week 14.
That trademark, and any other associated relation the team may have with the postseason, is on the line next week when the Steelers take to the road for a game at the Dallas Cowboys.