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No longer considered elite, Chargers struggle with fundamentals

SAN DIEGO -- Embarrassed. Disappointed. Discouraged.

Pick a word, any word. They all describe how some San Diego Chargers felt a day after they were blown out 35-17 by the Minnesota Vikings behind rookie Adrian Peterson's NFL single-game rushing record of 296 yards.

All-Pro outside linebacker Shawne Merriman went a step beyond.

"We got our butt kicked. Point blank," Merriman said Monday.

After dropping to 4-4 at the season's midpoint, the Chargers are trying to explain yet again why they couldn't tackle, block, throw the ball, run it, play a full 60 minutes or execute other fundamentals.

"I was more disappointed after the game," Merriman said. "But after I watched the film on the way home, I was more embarrassed of how that game went."

Coach Norv Turner said the Chargers "misjudged" Peterson's speed.

Peterson finished his record afternoon with a whopping 189 yards in the fourth quarter, including 46 on his second long touchdown run.

Coming in, the Vikings were 2-5 and the Chargers had been holding opponents to an average of 89 yards rushing. They dropped from seventh to 22nd in yards rushing per game.

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"I wasn't looking at him as a rookie that just rushed for 290-something or 300 yards, whatever it was; it was an NFL back," Merriman said. "It was demoralizing. It's terrible to let anybody go out and rush for that many yards, especially how we play the game. That's not supposed to happen and it did. We've got to go back and correct those things and get them right because we're not going to end up where we want to end up if we don't."

Merriman said it's one thing to play hard and lose by a field goal. But getting pounded like this was too much.

Plus, Merriman added, it's not exactly as if the Vikings were running reverses or throwing halfback passes.

"I think they found something and they targeted it and kept doing it," Merriman said. "They were taking the ball and pounding it straight up the field. That's what they were doing. They were saying, 'OK, we're running right here, can you stop it?' That's what they were doing. They said, 'This young guy is getting the ball and he's going in this gap, can you stop him?' And we didn't."

This wasn't the first time the Chargers were talking about missed tackles.

"I think you can try to blame it on Norv Turner, but I would love to see him go out and try to tackle somebody right now," Merriman said.

How about blaming it on defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell?

"I would love to see Ted try to tackle somebody right now," Merriman said. "The 11 players on the field are the ones who have to tackle. The coaches cannot go out and tackle for us."

Merriman once said that tackling is an attitude.

"If we don't have an attitude by now, we're going to have problems," Merriman said. "This game is played with an attitude, this game is played violent, this game is played with aggression, and if you don't have that, you're not going to be a successful football player or a successful team.

"However that is, I'm not really concerned about us getting it because we will get it. It will happen. But better sooner than later, before it's too late."

The one thing going for the Chargers is that they're tied with Kansas City atop the anemic AFC West.

Up next, though, is a home game Sunday night against the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, who are coming off a 24-20 loss to the undefeated New England Patriots. The Patriots blew out the Chargers 38-14 on Sept. 16.

LaDainian Tomlinson, the reigning NFL MVP who was held to only 40 yards on 16 carries Sunday, was asked if the Chargers were an elite team, as many outsiders believed coming into the season.

"We're not an elite team at all," Tomlinson said. "We're a team that's in the middle of the pack and we're struggling trying to win games."

The Chargers were an NFL-best 14-2 last year before their playoff loss against New England. While maybe only the most myopic of fans expected 14 wins again, certainly few thought the Chargers would be 4-4 at the midpoint.

"Those were the expectations, definitely. I'm speaking where we are now. We're not an elite team. We've got to find a way to get back to playing successful football and playing the way we're able to play when we're good. We've got to start beating teams that are good and teams that are elite in this league. We've beaten teams that we should beat. That's the way I see it."

Tomlinson and the Chargers know what it's like to get on a roll.

"Right now we're struggling to do that," he said. "We won three, but the three games we won, we should have won them. We find ourselves back in the same position we were a few weeks ago."

Tomlinson said the Vikings "executed their game plan, made plays. We didn't. Even though we had a better record than they did, they looked like a better football team than we did yesterday.

"It's obvious that we're just not all on the same page," Tomlinson said. "Everybody's not playing like we're capable of playing. We've got to change that."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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