SAN DIEGO -- Maybe it’s the stadium.
It has to be something. Neither coach Norv Turner nor general manager A.J. Smith can be blamed this time. They are both gone.
The San Diego Chargers began a new era Monday night, and if it weren’t for another second-half meltdown, it seemed like a pretty promising start. New coach Mike McCoy’s team was improved in many areas. And quarterback Philip Rivers was mostly surprisingly good.
But these are the Chargers, so none of that meant much. In the end, McCoy suffered a Turner-esque defeat to start his head coaching career. After building a 21-point third-quarter lead, the Chargers suffered a 31-28 loss to the Houston Texans late Monday night to put a cap on Week 1 of the 2013 season.
“We're sick,” Rivers said. “I'm sick, that we're not 1-0."
A dominating first-half performance by the Chargers ushered in the Tom Telesco-McCoy era. But the game ended up smacking of the Smith-Turner regime.
The collapse seemed to be coming the entire second half. All the crazy things that don’t happen in normal games started happening to the Chargers. As Texans kicker Randy Bullock’s winning 41-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, there wasn’t much shock in Qualcomm Stadium. It just seemed like a typical ending.
They’ve come to expect it around here.
Turner’s six-season tenure in San Diego was riddled with unlikely losses. It all came to a head last season when the Chargers blew a 24-point halftime lead and lost 35-24 to Denver on a Monday night. It was one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history. The game helped McCoy, who was Denver’s offensive coordinator at the time, become one of the hottest head coaching candidates in the league.
After the Chargers hired McCoy, they were able to take some solace from the embarrassing loss. At least they got one of the guys responsible to come to their side. McCoy was brought in to change San Diego’s losing culture. He was supposed to put an end to colossal collapses like the one against Denver and the famous fourth-and-29 loss to visiting Baltimore last November.
As the Chargers soared to the huge lead by playing near-flawless football in the first half, many might have believed McCoy would indeed prevent a Turner-like finish.
Then all kinds of Turner-like things started to happen.
The Chargers gave up big plays on third-and-18 and third-and-13 to keep two Texans’ scoring drives alive. They were penalized on a field goal which Houston parlayed into a touchdown -- a gigantic four-point swing in the fourth quarter.
Then Rivers threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Houston linebacker Brian Cushing to tie the game at 28 with 9:30 to go. The San Diego offense stopped after taking a 21-point lead. Brilliant play-calling dried up. The Chargers had 10 yards in their final five drives.
It was just like the Turner era. Honestly, as I walked to the interview area, I half expected to see Turner’s familiar blank stare.
But this is on the new regime. These are the new Chargers, even though the results are all too familiar.
After reveling in a Monday night San Diego collapse 11 months ago, McCoy will live with the reality that his first night as the Chargers' coach ended similarly. To his credit, he handled it well.
“The effort was there,” McCoy said. “They did a nice job. We just didn’t finish it. It comes down to finishing a football game. We got to do a better job moving forward.”
That’s the thing about this night. The Chargers played well. Yes, they did some bad things at the worst possible times. But this easily could have been a big win for a team from which not much is expected.
Rivers showed he is fitting in well with McCoy’s scheme. He looked more poised and relaxed than in the past two years, over which he committed 47 turnovers. Yes, he threw an interception and yes, it was paramount to the loss. But Rivers wasn’t a mistake waiting to happen Monday night. His four touchdown passes were the reason why the Chargers jumped out on Houston.
Many young players on both sides stood tall for San Diego. A maligned offensive line put in strong work against Texans pass-rusher J.J. Watt. San Diego’s young receivers came up big. And the Chargers’ young defense made Houston fight for most of the night.
There were signs of a good team. But, in the end, the Chargers fell apart again.
NFL veteran and San Diego newcomer Dwight Freeney tried to put a positive spin on it by saying this team will learn a lesson from the devastating collapse. Freeney was trying to be positive. But what he doesn’t realize: San Diego can teach lessons on such defeats, regardless of who is leading the charge.