SAN DIEGO (AP) - The San Diego Chargers still don't have much of an explanation for their latest playoff pratfall, although the word "uncharacteristic" popped up plenty as players headed into a gloomy offseason.
The Chargers, believed by some to be Super Bowl favorites, took a face-plant in Sunday's 17-14 loss to the New York Jets.
And to think, they don't have Marty Schottenheimer to blame for this one.
"No question it was a missed opportunity," said LaDainian Tomlinson, who might have played his last game with the Chargers. "I've said all along and I still believe it, this is the best team I've ever been on since I've been here with the Chargers. It's disappointing."
The Chargers certainly didn't play like the team that won 11 straight games coming in. There was plenty of poor play spread around:
- Pro Bowler Philip Rivers had two interceptions, one that set up rookie Mark Sanchez's go-ahead TD throw for the Jets.
- All-Pro Nate Kaeding, who in six seasons has become the NFL's most accurate kicker of all time, missed three field goals.
- The Bolts had 10 penalties for 87 yards, including three personal fouls. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for kicking the challenge flag that Jets coach Rex Ryan had just thrown late in the game with the Chargers trailing 17-7. Linebacker Shaun Phillips and special teams player Kris Wilson were called for unnecessary roughness.
"It was some of the most uncharacteristic things you could possibly do, and bad timing, too," outside linebacker Shawne Merriman said. "We just had bad timing all the way around. Some missed field goals, offside penalties, personal fouls, things that we're not accustomed do doing, and it happened. In certain situations, I guess we have to learn to keep our composure. That's when the maturity and experience has to kick in at some point."
This was supposed to be a more mature bunch put together by general manager A.J. Smith.
Instead, it drew comparisons to the Chargers team that melted down in a slew of boneheaded plays in a home divisional loss to New England three years ago.
Do the Chargers still have a maturity problem?
"It's tough to say because you've got guys who haven't had a penalty like that for the entire year and it happens one time, in a bad situation, and that's a deciding factor," Merriman said. "If it was a thing that a guy had personal fouls all through the year, or offside penalties, whatever it is, and it happened in this game, you can kind of say, 'OK, well, he has a pattern of doing it.' But when guys get personal fouls and do some things uncharacteristic, you can't really call it maturity problem, It's more of a composure problem that we need to get better."
Coach Norv Turner also used the word "uncharacteristic" about the penalties, saying he couldn't explain them.
"It's disappointing to me," Turner added. "I don't care who you are, those things are tough to overcome."
That loss to the Patriots three years ago came after the Chargers went 14-2 and earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Schottenheimer was fired a month later, in large part because of his icy relationship with Smith.
Once again, a Schottenheimer ended Smith's playoff run. This time it was Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets' offensive coordinator who used to the be the Chargers' quarterbacks coach.
These Chargers went 13-3 and had the first one-and-done playoff performance in three seasons under Turner, who dropped to 3-3 in the postseason with the Bolts.
Turner got the Chargers to the AFC championship game in his first season. They beat Indianapolis in overtime in a home wild-card game last year before being manhandled in the divisional round by eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh.
Turner won't suffer the same fate as Marty Schottenheimer. The Chargers announced Monday evening that they've given Turner a three-year contract extension through 2013. The team didn't make Turner or Smith available for comment.
Turner doesn't think the Chargers' window of opportunity has been slammed shut.
"We have got an outstanding football team and we have got good players and great character players and people that you want to be around on a daily basis, and guys that will get this thing done," Turner said. "There's no question in my mind. I think the future for this football team is outstanding."
Asked if that means winning the Super Bowl, he said: "That's our intention and that's our goal. I believe this team is capable of coming back and putting ourselves in position to make a run at it over the next period of time."
If they do, it'll likely be without Tomlinson and perhaps Merriman.
Tomlinson almost became a salary-cap casualty last offseason, and there's been plenty of speculation that the Chargers will let him go this offseason.
"We all had aspirations of winning the championship. It's disappointing when it comes to a halt," he said.
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