Source: Associated Press
SAN DIEGO - At least Norv Turner and the San Diego Chargers are consistent.
Despite having the NFL's top-ranked offense and second-ranked defense, the Chargers are 2-3 under Turner for the fourth straight season. Their latest pratfall was a 35-27 loss at Oakland on Sunday, ending the Chargers' 13-game winning streak against their bitter rival.
Ongoing special teams blunders and turnovers are tarnishing a sensational start by quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates, leaving the players to get mad at themselves and Turner to deflect the blame away from his staff.
After giving up two kickoff returns and a punt return for touchdowns in their first three games, the Chargers had two punts blocked by the Raiders, helping Oakland to a quick 12-0 lead. One bounced through the end zone for a safety and the other was returned for a touchdown by Hiram Eugene.
Turner bristled Sunday when asked if special teams coach Steve Crosby was in danger of losing his job. "Don't be silly," the coach snapped.
Turner changed his choice of words on Monday, but still defended Crosby.
Asked why it would be silly for a reporter to ask about Crosby, Turner said: "Maybe I misspoke when I said 'silly.' When you're talking about Steve Crosby, I would say it's inappropriate."
Why inappropriate? "Because I have great respect for what he's done and what he does. Steve Crosby's our special teams coach and will be," said Turner, whose overall record in three NFL head coaching stints fell to 92-101.
Crosby is in his ninth season as San Diego's special teams coach.
Turner, who fired defensive co-ordinator Ted Cottrell midway through the 2008 season, continued to insist that the special teams struggles are due to a change in personnel, and that the problem can be fixed. He discounts the notion that maybe the Chargers got rid of too many veterans in the off-season.
Linebacker Stephen Cooper, who said the Chargers should be 5-0, defended Crosby.
"He keeps coaching the same way he has in the past but players aren't getting the job done on the field," Cooper said. "I talked to him on the plane. I told him, 'I'm ready to go on punt, kickoff, whatever you need, even if I have to take a play or two off on defense."
Turner appears safe. The playoff face-plant against the New York Jets in January — San Diego's third loss in its past four post-season games — wasn't held against Turner. The day after the embarrassing 17-14 loss, Turner received a three-year contract extension through 2013.
General manager A.J. Smith has often called Turner "the right coach at the right time." Turner was Smith's choice to replace Marty Schottenheimer, who was fired by Chargers President Dean Spanos following the 2006 season due to an icy relationship with the general manager.
Turner pointed out that the Chargers fixed their problems with kickoff coverage. Now they have new problems to fix.
"We didn't handle it right," Turner said of the blocked punts. "We've handled it right for a long time around here. This, to me, and I know what everyone wants to make it out to be, it turns out to be a blame game. You guys have been around me. You know what I'm about. It ain't going to turn out to be that with me. It's going to be, we're going to address the things. I always look forward. We've got to fix the problems we've had and then we've got to go get better."
Turnovers have also been damaging. Fullback Mike Tolbert fumbled at the Oakland 1-yard line late in the first quarter, and Rivers fumbled when he was sacked at the Oakland 19 on San Diego's next drive. Rivers fumbled again in the closing minutes. Michael Huff(notes) knocked the ball out of Rivers' hand and Tyvon Branch returned it 64 yards for the final score.
"It's a shame, because you look at this group and there are so many guys playing the best football, really, of their careers, on both sides of the ball, and we're not having the production we should have," Turner said.
The Chargers have lost nine of 11 fumbles this season, two more than they lost all of last season.
"If we turn it over it doesn't mean we're going to lose, but it certainly is making it a lot harder to win," Rivers said.
"We played really well in most of the game. Had we eliminated some of those other things, again, it wouldn't have been close," Rivers said. "But it was. The Raiders had something to do with those mishaps. We weren't out there just playing against air. They obviously caused some of those things and made it the game it was, and ultimately we lost the game."
Rivers threw for 431 yards, his second 400-yard game of the season, for a season total of 1,759 yards, with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Gates has seven touchdowns among his 29 catches, for 478 yards. Malcom Floyd had a career-high 213 yards on eight catches, with one TD.
And still they're sub-.500.
"You ought to just go back through the archives and us not have to answer anything about it," Rivers cracked. "It's not a struggling 2-3 like we can't find the rhythm on offense and they're running up and down the field on defense. We can say we're not that far off, and if we keep saying that and we don't start winning, then it's not going to matter."
NOTES: LT Marcus McNeill was added to the active roster after missing three games while on the roster exempt list. He was placed on the list by Smith as a hardball tactic aimed at ending McNeill's holdout. … The Chargers released CB Fred Bennett(notes) and S C.J. Spillman. … WR Legedu Naanee (hamstring) and OLB Shawne Merriman (calf) were being evaluated Monday, Turner said.