Bolts must cut down on mistakes to shake off slow start

SAN DIEGO -- Except for Philip Rivers' gaudy passing yardage, not much is going right for the San Diego Chargers.

Letting Seattle's Leon Washington return kickoffs 101 and 99 yards for touchdowns were the most glaring of several mistakes in a 27-20 road loss Sunday for the Chargers, who are off to another slow start under coach Norv Turner.

It was the kind of performance that almost guarantees a second straight TV blackout when the Chargers (1-2) play host to the Arizona Cardinals (2-1) on Sunday. The team said Monday that some 10,000 tickets remain, including 8,000 that must be sold by Thursday afternoon to lift the blackout. The Chargers' streak of 48 straight sellouts dating to 2004, including playoffs, ended with the home opener two weeks ago.

Rivers threw for a franchise record 455 yards -- breaking Hall of Famer Dan Fouts' record by 11 yards -- and two touchdowns, but he was intercepted twice, including in the final seconds as the Chargers were trying for the tying score. The Chargers lost three fumbles and committed 11 penalties for 83 yards.

"Someone asked me a question about underachieving," Turner said Monday. "There's a lot of guys that did a lot of good things, perform at a high level, and it's just a shame that it doesn't show up because of the errors we made."

The Chargers are 6-8 in Septembers under Turner, including 1-3 his first season, 2007. They're probably thrilled that the calendar changes on Friday.

The Chargers' performance is curious considering that Turner said on the eve of training camp that he thinks this team can be the best in his four seasons as Bolts boss. He also said he felt they were prepared by their most physical camp in four years, even as they were coming off an embarrassing 17-14 playoff loss to the New York Jets.

Still, the penalties and turnovers have piled up. The Chargers have lost five of seven fumbles and Rivers has thrown four interceptions. They've committed 20 penalties for 138 yards.

San Diego has allowed three returns for touchdowns -- the two by Washington and a 94-yard punt return by rookie Dexter McCluster in Kansas City's 21-14 win on opening night.

Turner's explanation for most of the errors is that the Chargers have a lot of players whose playing time has increased.

Which raises the question: Did the Chargers get rid of too many veterans in the offseason?

"I'm not going to back down on what I believe about this team," Turner said. "This team is going to be an outstanding football team. We've got enough players in all three phases. We have some youth, and it presents a great challenge for me as the head coach and all our assistant coaches. But I can't think of anything more satisfying than getting some of these young players up to speed in knowing what they have to do to compete at a high level in this league."

On Sunday, newcomer Patrick Crayton implied that some Chargers weren't taking special teams coach Steve Crosby seriously. "It's not a sense of entitlement," Crayton said then. "It's a privilege to put on the uniform every day. Some guys have got to straighten up."

That apparently earned Crayton a rebuke from Turner.

"Patrick is new to our organization and I don't think you'll hear any other comments from Patrick," Turner said. "He knows that now the way we handle things is in-house, and if there's an issue we have to handle, there's a great leadership group of guys that take great pride in how we handle things. I think Patrick understands that I'm the spokesman in terms of how we're preparing or how we're getting ready to do things."

Turner said he sits in on special teams meetings and that players did extra work last week.

"I think we have to do a better job of them understanding exactly what they need to do. And they need to make sure they're doing their part," Turner said.

The coach said some starters will probably have to move back into special teams roles.

The Chargers clearly miss Kassim Osgood, a three-time Pro Bowl special teams ace who signed with Jacksonville as an unrestricted free agent.

Osgood wanted to be a wide receiver, but Turner said he wasn't willing to make that commitment.

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"We've got guys in the passing game that are productive," Turner said. "I believe if it was broken down, we offered Kassim more money than he signed for, and I think that was a decision that he made and there's not a whole lot we could do about it."

Right guard Louis Vasquez hurt his right knee and outside linebacker Shawne Merriman is hurt again, this time his left calf. Rookie running back Ryan Mathews missed the game because of a sprained right ankle and Turner hopes he can practice later in the week.

The player Mathews replaced, LaDainian Tomlinson, ran 15 times for 70 yards and one touchdown in the Jets' 31-23 win at Miami on Sunday night. Tomlinson, who got on the wrong side of Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, has 208 yards and one score on 37 carries this season. Mathews has 104 yards on 25 carries and has yet to score.

Until Sunday, Mathews was the only member of the Chargers' 2010 draft class to suit up. On Sunday, safety Darrell Stuckey finally played.

Left tackle Brandyn Dombrowski had his worst game, getting beat on three of four sacks and committing two penalties. The player he's replaced, Marcus McNeill, ended his holdout Saturday. But McNeill has to sit out the next three games, the result of being placed on the roster exempt list in a hardball move by Smith.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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