SAN DIEGO -- Only on Norv Turner’s watch.
When Turner’s obituary as the Chargers’ coach is written (there's little chance he can survive now), "Fourth-and-29" will have a prominent place in the tale of Turner’s undoing.
It’s difficult to rank the shocking, unlikely and gut-wrenching losses in Turner’s tenure in San Diego’s coach. This is the Chargers’ third unfathomable collapse since Week 5. There have been so many and each stands alone in its own miserable way. Sunday’s loss, however, may deserve a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of Devastating Norv Turner Defeats.
The Chargers were about to win thanks to a great defensive effort. But it all fell apart on fourth-and-29.
San Diego put the Ravens in a hopeless situation with suffocating defense. The game appeared over with the Chargers holding onto a 13-10 lead with 2:07 left. The Ravens were in desperation mode at their own 37. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco flipped the ball out to running back Ray Rice near the line of scrimmage. He weaved and darted past San Diego pursuers to the Chargers’ 34.
The spot was reviewed and then overturned. Yet, the ball placement was still good for the first down, much to the chagrin of Turner and his players. Replays showed Rice’s knee may have been down prior to the first-down marker. Several San Diego players said they were convinced Rice was stopped short of the first down.
“[The officials] are human and they make mistakes as well,” San Diego running back Ronnie Brown said.
Said Rice of the play: “After I looked at it, clearly my momentum was going forward. I was hoping for a good spot. I knew I was right on it.”
Said Turner of the play: “The explanation we got was that [the officials] could not see the ball where they spotted the ball. They knew it had not made it to the point where they marked it, so they moved it back. I don’t know based on not being able to see the ball how they picked where they were going to move the ball back to. The view that our guys had upstairs, they felt he was short.”
Still, fourth-and-29? Make a stop. A conversion cannot be allowed under any circumstances. Also, the Ravens had to score twice after that play to win and they did.
Turner was shaking his head a lot Sunday. He has to know the end is near, but this is getting to be torturous.
San Diego, which hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2009, is now 4-7 and is barely alive in the wild-card hunt. The AFC West race is all but over. Denver can win the division title next Sunday.
The 2012 Chargers will be remembered for their storybook collapses. Sunday’s fiasco just adds to the list.
The Chargers blew a double-digit lead in the second half at New Orleans in Week 5. Had they won that game, they would have taken a two-game lead in the AFC West. The next week, San Diego had a 24-0 halftime lead over Denver at home in a “Monday Night Football” game. Much of the country awoke the next morning to see Denver pulled off a 35-24 win in a historic NFL comeback that has defined the season for both teams. Denver hasn’t lost since. The Chargers have won once since.
Now enters the "Fourth-and-29" chapter in this horror story.
“It’s a very weird thing,” San Diego linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “I can’t figure it out … It’s happened three times now.”
While Sunday’s loss will be remembered for an inexcusable defensive lapse, it was the San Diego defense that kept the team in the game. The Chargers finished the game with backups at both safety spots and at middle linebacker. Safety Eric Weddle and middle linebacker Donald Butler are among the Chargers’ best players and they did not finish the game.
It became evident that if the Chargers were going to win, it was going to be because of the defense.
San Diego’s offense appears incapable of winning a game. Turner said multiple times Sunday night that he is simply looking for his team to convert a first down.
This loss can’t be pinned on quarterback Philip Rivers. In fact, Sunday’s game provided glaring evidence that he can’t win alone. He is not getting any help.
The offensive line is a mess. Rivers was sacked six times. The Chargers haven’t had a 100-yard rushing performance all season and the team’s best receiver, Danario Alexander, was signed of the street during the season. Once-great tight end Antonio Gates is a shell of his former self. He had two catches on two targets. He is just not getting open.
It is clear there are no quick fixes here, but Sunday was supposed to be the day an underrated defense got rewarded for stout play and for keeping the team's faint playoff hopes alive.
Instead it's just another kick in the gut for Turner in an era that is close to ending.