Today? Philip Rivers and Norv Turner. Rivers keeps coming up small in big moments, and he did it again against the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning made plays to win the game. Rivers made mistakes to cost the Chargers. When Rivers started shrinking, so did other players. You have to start wondering if Rivers, as talented as he is, is a front-runner. As for Turner, he had to know Denver was going to make a run in the second half. That's what they've done all season. The Chargers were facing Peyton Manning, after all. Yet, after the sack and forced fumble by Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil that was returned for a touchdown, the Chargers fell apart.
Their mental toughness can barely support an eggshell, and if that's not corrected, San Diego won't make the playoffs despite playing in a very winnable division. Even if they do make the cut, having to deal with the adversity that comes in the postseason seems like it would be too much.
A.J. Smith deserves the blame for continuing to employ Norv Turner. It's not just about the offense that Turner runs -- it's his ability, or lack thereof, to manage an organization.
Turner tries out a new defensive coordinator every couple of years, and he might have actually hit upon a good one this season in John Pagano. But Smith's drafting and Turner's coaching have allowed the offense to erode over time. That all comes back to the man in charge.
What a meltdown in San Diego. Plenty of teams have blown leads before, but continually watching the Chargers collapse is tough. This is much bigger than one Monday night debacle.
The Chargers should be able to get any free agent they want, but they can't, because A.J. Smith has a reputation as a general manager who coaches and players don't want to deal with. No one wants to go play there. Who was the last true impact player they signed in free agency? Good luck trying to name one.
But more telling is this: Just about every star player who's become a free agent has left town. LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie, Vincent Jackson, Shawne Merriman -- they've all gotten out. Even guys like Mike Tolbert and Steve Gregory left. You can't rely solely on the draft to keep your talent base full enough to be an elite team. You know, one that doesn't blow 24-0 leads.
I almost hate to blame Norv Turner for this loss. Blaming him would be akin to blaming my dog for not understanding algebra. There are just some things that don't compute. Thus, the blame should be placed on the guy who has stubbornly stood by Turner during the decline of the Chargers, general manager A.J. Smith.
The embattled Smith won the war with Marty Schottenheimer. And Smith has used his power to part ways with Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Michael Turner, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Cromartie. That's a lot of Pro Bowl-caliber talent that is now playing for other teams in the NFL. He also cost the Chargers a season-opening win against the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 when he placed Antonio Gates on the roster-exempt list during a contract dispute. (Raise your hand if you notice a pattern here.) It should be noted that the Chargers missed the playoffs by one game that season.
Smith also has missed on a number of first-round picks, and was given way too much credit for the Philip Rivers deal, which also netted Nate Kaeding and Shawne Merriman. Speaking of which, Archie Manning has long been vilified in San Diego for orchestrating the move to get his son to the New York Giants. But after all these years, it turns out Archie had a point.