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THE NFL / 1996

Chargers Stumble Against Steelers, 16-3

AFC: Salisbury can't get anything going against Pittsburgh, which wraps up fourth AFC Central title in five years.

December 09, 1996|From Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — It wasn't the best effort for a Pittsburgh Steeler team playing at home. But it was good enough Sunday to defeat a San Diego Charger team with hardly any weapons.

The Steelers jumped ahead early and held on, 16-3, as their defense held the Chargers to three points on four drives into their territory in the final 19 minutes.

Two seasons after preventing the Steelers from going to the Super Bowl, the Chargers (7-7) probably kept themselves out of the playoffs. They did it with a succession of fumbles and foul-ups.

"It's tough to win when you don't make plays," said Sean Salisbury, the beleaguered Charger quarterback who subbed for the injured Stan Humphries. "I don't care where you're playing: at home, on the road or out in the street."

Steeler running back Jerome Bettis didn't gain his customary 100 yards, and Mike Tomczak spent most of a snow-blown afternoon throwing everywhere but to his receivers, yet the Steelers (10-4) wrapped up a fourth AFC Central title in five years.

But it wasn't much to watch, not with the Chargers and Steelers performing a 60-minute version of football follies. On one play, each team had a turnover--the Chargers intercepted a Tomczak pass, only to fumble the ball right back.

The teams combined for eight turnovers. Tomczak completed 15 of 31 passes for 153 yards and three interceptions. Salisbury (10 for 29, 125 yards and one interception) spent as much time ducking a pass rush that sacked him five times as he did looking for his receivers.

"It was real important to go after him," linebacker Jason Gildon said. "I know after we got back there a few times, he started second-guessing himself."

The Steelers finished off Salisbury by sacking him on the Chargers' final two plays after San Diego drove to the Pittsburgh 15 late in the game.

"Do we have enough talent to compete on offense right now? I'm not going to comment on that," said Charger Coach Bobby Ross, who reportedly is weighing a possible return to college coaching. "We had problems all day."

Ross considered switching to third-team quarterback Craig Whelihan, but the snow and cold convinced him to stay with Salisbury, who was making his third start.

The Chargers managed only 148 yards against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense, and their 13 drives ended with eight punts, two fumbles, an interception, a field goal and a loss of downs.

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