PITTSBURGH -- Electrifying early and too late, the San Diego Chargers just didn't have enough juice.
Sproles, who had 328 all-purpose yards and a game-winning 22-yard TD run to beat the Colts, finished with 15 yards rushing -- San Diego's total -- on 11 carries.
"That's a really, really good team," Sproles said.
Even when Sproles finally got loose on a 63-yard kickoff return in the third quarter to Pittsburgh's 23, the Chargers, who were without star LaDainian Tomlinson, couldn't capitalize.
"That was crazy," Rivers said. "That's the way it goes sometimes. We didn't expect the game to end 7-0. They made a play. We made some plays. We knew it was going to be a back and forth game, but it was such a weird third quarter. It went from a smashmouth, in-your-face game that could go either way and then it was such a weird third quarter."
Sproles caught a short pass and turned it into a 62-yard TD with 1:53 left, but by then the Steelers were already looking ahead to next Sunday's title game against Baltimore.
San Diego's defense couldn't stop Pittsburgh as the Steelers held the ball for an astonishing 14:43 to just 17 seconds for San Diego.
"We were standing on the sideline and it was like, 'We were in for one play in the quarter and it was an interception,"' Rivers said. There was a little bit of disbelief."
It had all started so well for the Chargers, who came in 0-13 in regular-season games in Pittsburgh but had won twice here in the playoffs.
Rivers opened 8-of-9 and looked comfortable in the pocket as he surveyed the field. But the Steelers began to bring the heat about the time the sun set, and it wasn't long before San Diego's QB was scrambling every time he dropped back.
In the fourth quarter, Rivers was slammed hard to the frozen field by LaMarr Woodley on the edge of the end zone. Rivers wobbled as he tried to get up and then staggered slightly like a fighter looking for his corner after surviving a late-round flurry.
"I got my bell rung a little. I was a little cuckoo for a few seconds," said Rivers, who finished 21-of-35 for 308 yards with three TDs. He was sacked four times.
The Chargers couldn't have imagined returning to Pittsburgh, where they lost 11-10 on Nov. 16 -- the first of three straight losses that dropped them to 4-8.
But afterward, they were glad they came back.
"The character, the fight, the resiliency we showed says a lot about the group of guys that we have," Rivers said. "When your backs are against the wall, you want to know who's on your side. When you get front-running type guys who are only there when you're reeling off wins, those aren't the type of guys you want.
"We got the right kind of guys. Anytime you're 4-8 and you bounce back and win the division and you win a game in the playoffs, that says a lot."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press