http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/chargers/20051213-9999-1s13chargers.html Chargers must come to grips with situation By Kevin Acee UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER December 13, 2005 As the shock wore off, there still was no excuse. But this much became clearer: Sunday was more catch-up then let up. Yes, the season simply might have caught up with the Chargers. "It would have been very difficult given the competition," coach Marty Schottenheimer said when asked about the tall order of his team not losing any of its final nine games. That was, in fact, the Chargers' predicament after a 3-4 start. The room for error had been too little for too long. Given this team's potent offense and its increasingly ferocious pass rush, there had been reason to believe. And that offense might be the only reason to think a run through the final three games is possible. The Chargers have been saying for more than a month that every game was a must-win. Now, winning might not be enough. And winning will be difficult enough. The Chargers visit undefeated Indianapolis this weekend, where the host team and its domed-in crowd will be hungry for history. Then comes a game at Kansas City and the finale at home against Denver. The combined record of the three teams is 31-8. That, coupled with the relatively easy schedules of the other wild-card contenders, makes the Chargers, even Schottenheimer acknowledged, "a long shot" to make the playoffs. But the coach said yesterday he still expects his team will be in the postseason. With the daunting finish on the horizon, there were rumblings from the Miami locker room Sunday that the Chargers overlooked the Dolphins. Schottenheimer categorically denied that was the case, and his players said it wasn't true even as they acknowledged they were largely "flat." Whatever, they have ruined what was to be a week full of playoff-type hype for the rest of the football-watching world. An entire league had looked forward to a Chargers team that would have been on a six-game win streak going to Indianapolis. Still, by one measure, there is no other team closer to being undefeated than the Chargers. Their five losses have come by a total of 14 points. That's a smaller aggregate margin of defeat than any team in the league, including the Seattle Seahawks, whose two losses have come by a total of 15 points. Sunday's loss was the first of its kind for the Chargers this season. In the previous four, they led in the fourth quarter and ended up losing on a late development. "The way we lost the other ones was different," cornerback Drayton Florence said. "It still feels the same. This one didn't hurt any more than the one we lost to Dallas. It just meant more because of the playoffs." In reality, it meant the same as the Dallas loss – or the losses to Denver, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Those losses are actually what made this one hurt so bad. "Time is running out," Florence acknowledged. "The margin for error is not as big." Not a good time for the Chargers' weaknesses to finally and emphatically be exposed because their strengths took a sabbatical. For the first time this season, the Chargers did not register a sack and hardly got any pressure on Miami quarterback Gus Frerotte. That left an underwhelming secondary with too much time to kill. And for the first time in more than a month, big pass plays hurt the Chargers. Also, there were turnovers. "We just put ourselves behind the eight ball too many times in the game," Schottenheimer said. But before all that happened, the Chargers stalled. An offense that ranked second in the league in scoring, averaging almost 30 points a game, scored just seven points in the first three quarters despite moving into Dolphins' territory on four consecutive drives between the second and third quarters. The Chargers' 21 total points were their third-lowest output of the season. And it threatened to be their lowest total until they scored a touchdown with 15 seconds remaining. And so came the first Monday of mourning since mid-October. "It's very frustrating because of the momentum we were building and the direction we were going," linebacker Donnie Edwards said. "To lose a game you're expected to win – at home – it's a big disappointment. I think a lot of guys are frustrated today." Schottenheimer acknowledged the letdown in a team meeting yesterday and told his team this: "I know from experience the only way you fix it is winning the next one." Nuts 'n' Bolts About a dozen Chargers showed up for Saturday meetings with an illness that lingered through the game and still has many of them experiencing symptoms such as high fever and diarrhea. How much it affected Sunday's outcome is questionable, since one of the sickest players was defensive end Luis Castillo, who played one of his best games of the season. Free safety Bhawoh Jue suffered a mild knee sprain Sunday and could play at Indianapolis. According to Schottenheimer, LaDainian Tomlinson said he felt "a lot better today than he did at this time a week go."