PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The Super Bowl-winning Steelers' season was starting to unravel with consecutive losses in the final 15 seconds to the Bears and the Bengals. Determined to make sure their bad start didn't last a moment more, they needed less than 15 minutes to effectively put away one of the AFC's best teams.
The final 15 minutes against San Diego couldn't have been much worse, but the Steelers were so good, so dominating and so reminiscent of last season's team before then that it didn't really matter.
The Steelers (2-2) opened a 28-point lead behind Rashard Mendenhall's running and Ben Roethlisberger's throwing and shut down the Chargers' ground game like no team has since 1992 during a 38-28 victory Sunday night that convinced them they're finding themselves again.
Linebacker James Farrior said they would be in big trouble if they were 1-3. No chance for that, even if the Chargers (2-2) made it interesting by outscoring the Steelers 21-10 in the fourth quarter.
"We put up 38, and I think it could have been more," said Roethlisberger, who was 26 of 33 for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
Mendenhall certainly found himself after mostly looking lost since the Steelers drafted him in the first round a year ago.
The former Illinois running back came in with 103 yards and no touchdowns in seven career games before running for 165 yards and two touchdowns against the NFL's sixth-worst rushing defense. The Steelers outgained the Chargers 497-251 and outran them 177-16 as LaDainian Tomlinson gained only 15 yards on seven carries during one of the most miserable offensive games _ at least for three quarters _ of the Norv Turner era.
"I don't think you ever want to get into a situation where people are able to run the ball the way they were able to," Turner said.
Mendenhall matched what the now-injured Willie Parker did while running for 146 and 115 yards in victories against the Chargers last season, repeatedly cutting through the middle of their defense for big yardage. Roethlisberger did the rest while completing 11 of his first 12 passes for 150 yards, and third-down back Mewelde Moore caught a touchdown pass and threw another on a gadget play.
The Chargers, outgained nearly 4 to 1 until late in the third quarter, never had an answer until Philip Rivers (21 of 36, 254 yards) threw touchdown passes to Antonio Gates (30 yards) and Chris Chambers (13 yards) and Jacob Hester scored on a 41-yard fumble return, all in the fourth quarter. San Diego briefly cut it to 35-28, but the Steelers closed it out with Jeff Reed's 46-yard field goal.
The Steelers have been outscored 48-13 in the fourth quarter, the primary reason for their poor start.
"I feel like we are playing great for three quarters, then in the fourth we can't seem to finish things out," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We are lucky our offense came up so big today."
There have been plenty of bad days for the Chargers in Pittsburgh, where they are 0-14 during the regular season. Few have been this poor, although the late comeback made a game that was anything but close momentarily feel that way.
"They were a desperate football team so they were going to do what it took to win the game, period," Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett said. "I think the stats speak for themselves. They ran for about 400 yards. We couldn't stop them. They couldn't be stopped."
The Chargers aren't exactly sure why, especially given Mendenhall had gained all of 45 yards this season -- nearly all of them on a single 39-yard run against the Bears.
The week before, Mendenhall so angered coach Mike Tomlin with his inability to run plays correctly during practice that he didn't get a single carry in Cincinnati.
"He went through what some (young) guys go through," Tomlin said. "He addressed it and moved forward and showed what he's capable of doing. He needs to continue to do that and build off that."
The Steelers showed off a new wrinkle during the game's opening drive, which started with Roethlisberger completing passes of 15 yards to Santonio Holmes, 15 to Hines Ward and 35 to rookie Mike Wallace _ an early sign the Chargers were in big trouble.
With 323-pound lineman Doug Legursky plowing through the middle as his blocking back, Mendenhall finished it off by scoring from the 1. He later made it 21-0 with a 2-yard TD run.
After the game, some of his teammates jokingly referred to Legursky as "Bronco," a reference to long-ago Bears fullback Bronco Nagurski.
"You start turning over stones to find ways to win," Tomlin said. "We'll see where we go from here."