Norv Turner knew his days were numbered in San Diego, but his team never quit on him. It would have been easy for the Chargers to start thinking about their offseason plans knowing that their coach was headed out the door. They didn’t.
Instead, the Chargers fought to a 7-9 record with a 24-21 win over the rival Oakland Raiders on Sunday. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Chargers got the win for their lame-duck coach. There will be a new head coach in San Diego next season and likely a new general manager.
Turner took over one of the NFL’s most talented teams, but he could never turn them into perennial Super Bowl contenders. His failures were compounded by general manager A.J. Smith, who totally ignored the offense and failed to replace key players that left as free agents.
Sunday’s game was a good example of how far the Chargers have fallen. The running game was stuck in the mud and totaled just 70 yards on 31 carries. The most explosive play came on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Danario Alexander against a cornerback making his first start. Alexander himself was a free agent until the Chargers picked him up midseason.
San Diego used to have a combination of playmakers that was second-to-none. Now, a good day for Rivers is 13-of-17 for 151 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Chargers are lucky to have Alexander; otherwise, Rivers would be throwing exclusively to a declining Antonio Gates.
Good days for Rivers have also become increasingly rare because of poor protection by his offensive line. Rivers was only sacked twice, but he continues to get harassed in the pocket causing plays to break down.
A good day for the defense might be holding Terrelle Pryor to 199 yards of total offense, three touchdowns and an interception, or limiting the running game to 66 yards on 20 carries. A good day for the special teams might be returning a kick 99 yards for a touchdown, running a fake punt for a first down and also having a punt blocked.
The interception of Pryor came on a one-handed leaping grab by another guy that has an unknown future in San Diego: cornerback Quentin Jammer. The veteran and longest-tenured player in San Diego is a free agent, and a new regime may no longer need his services.
Sunday’s win marked the end of Turner’s reign and the beginning of a new era of Chargers football. That’s not a sad thing. Turner way overstayed his welcome in San Diego and will have his choice of several jobs as an offensive coordinator.