Whether he's trying to deflect criticism of his play-calling or delivering some kind of pre-emptive strike, coach Norv Turner has a message for fans - the San Diego Chargers aren't as good as outsiders think they are.
Turner said he thinks he has a good handle on where the Chargers are after two games - a close call against the Oakland Raiders in the season opener and a 31-26 home-opening loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
"I don't think right now we're as good as you that cover us think or expect us to be; I don't think we're as good as what our fans want us to be," Turner said Monday at the start of his weekly news conference. "But I believe we can get there. We've got a lot of work to get there."
The Chargers went into the season having been picked by some as Super Bowl favorites. The players themselves have Super Bowl expectations, although they're not as chatty about them as they have been the last three seasons, when their playoff runs ended short of the NFL championship game.
There are some in the media who believe the Chargers have the most-talented roster in the NFL. The Chargers organization often brags about the depth that's been stockpiled via long-term contracts.
Naturally, the Chargers are expected to mop up the anemic AFC West, with many feeling they can clinch their fourth straight division title by Thanksgiving.
Two games in, they're not even leading the division. Denver, which collapsed down the stretch last year, allowing San Diego to win the title at 8-8, is 2-0. San Diego is tied with Oakland at 1-1, and Kansas City is 0-2.
The Chargers came out of the Raiders game looking like they'd lost a street brawl. LaDainian Tomlinson, center Nick Hardwick, right guard Louis Vasquez and defensive tackle Jamal Williams all were hurt.
Williams, a run-stuffer, was put on injured reserve on Saturday, meaning he's done for the season. Tomlinson, Hardwick and Vasquez all missed the Baltimore game, and there's no word when they'll be back.
"We obviously went through a lot of change last week," Turner said. "We had an assortment of young guys play, and in a lot of cases, those young guys came in and played pretty good. Obviously we're playing an outstanding football team, you know, and as I said, I thought we did a lot of good things. We let some things get away from us. They did a lot of good things. They let some things get away from them.
"We've got to play better, and that's going to be our approach."
Philip Rivers, who threw for a career-high 436 yards, agrees with the coach.
"I guess it kind of seems that the expectation outside of the building is that we never should lose a game, we should score every single time in the red zone, we should never punt," Rivers said. "It's just a little bit unrealistic.
"We aren't as good as we want to be or that we can be, yet," Rivers said. "You can look at that negatively or positively. On the positive side, if we're peaking at Week 2, sitting at 1-1, we'd be in trouble. But we're here climbing the mountain right now, early in the season, just took a team that was in the AFC championship to the wire and had opportunities to win. There's nothing to hang our head about. There are definitely things to correct, that we didn't do so well. Our mindset is very positive."
Fans booed when Turner called for a field goal on third-and-goal on the Baltimore 5 with 10 seconds to go before halftime.
Turner said he knows the Chargers can get a play off in 10 seconds, but didn't like what had been going on inside the Ravens' 20-yard line, including Rivers getting sacked prior to an earlier field goal by Nate Kaeding.
"We were having a tough time with a particular blitz they were running up the middle, and I wasn't going to take the risk on a ball being tipped and batted up in the air and intercepted; a ball being completely short," Turner said. "We didn't have a timeout. I was more comfortable taking the three points.
"No one more than me would have liked to throw a touchdown pass in that situation, but I also felt that at that time we had to regroup because we weren't handling some of the things they were doing."
San Diego got to the Ravens' 5-, 2-, 1- and 10-yard lines, and had to settle for field goals by Kaeding each time. The Chargers had 12 penalties for 85 yards, including delay-of-game calls while they were at the 1 and the 10.
San Diego's final drive ended when Ray Lewis stuffed Darren Sproles on fourth-and-2 from the Baltimore 15 in the closing seconds.
Turner said that if anything, he would have changed the third-down call, which was a short pass to Sproles that was incomplete.
"If you execute it properly, it has a real chance of being more than a 1-yard gain," Turner said of the fourth-down play.
The Chargers host Miami on Sunday.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.