SAN DIEGO (AP) — Norv Turner and his players disagree with the fans who think the San Diego Chargers are winning ugly.
The Chargers are 3-1 for the first time in Turner's five seasons — the Cinco de Norvo — after beating the winless Miami Dolphins 26-16 on Sunday.
It certainly wasn't perfect, with the Bolts bogging down inside the 20-yard line and having to settle for four field goals from Nick Novak. Plus, the three teams they've beaten — Minnesota, Kansas City and Miami — are a combined 1-11.
Still, they're doing it without star tight end Antonio Gates and it's certainly better than the usual 1-3 or 2-2 records at this point in the season under Turner, which have greatly annoyed the paying customers. The Chargers started 2-3 each of the last three seasons.
After missing the playoffs last year, the Chargers are leading the AFC West with a quarter of the season gone.
"We're not hitting our stride yet we're 3-1," said tight end Randy McMichael, the replacement the last two games for Gates, who's sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. The injury has slowed Gates since last season.
McMichael said he's surprised with the fan grumbling the last two weeks, when the Chargers haven't exactly showed their high-octane offense.
"This is the NFL," he said. "It's hard to get wins in the league. It's just a difficult league."
A week earlier, the Chargers let the then-winless Kansas City Chiefs stick around into the final minute before preserving a 20-17 win. While the Chargers were beating the Dolphins, the Chiefs got their first win by beating the winless Vikings, the same team the Chargers had to rally against to win on opening day.
It's been that kind of 3-1. Which, of course, is better than the 1-3 Turner opened with in 2007, when fans clamored for the fired Marty Schottenheimer. The last time the Chargers were 3-1 was Schottenheimer's final season, 2006.
"The feedback after beating Kansas City from the external people, outside of our building, wasn't real positive," Turner said. "And I made a strong point of making sure it was positive, because it's hard to win a game in this league. You win a game, it is big because it helps you get better, it helps you practice better, your dinner tastes better, everything about it is better, and the guys go out and have more energy. Winning football games, I think, obviously, gives you momentum, excitement, energy, concentration. You don't have to deal with some of the distractions you have when you're not."
Turner is playing the youth card again, saying there's been "unbelievable change" over the last two years.
"It's important to me for our guys not to be beat down by someone who's got different expectations about us, or wrong expectations about us," Turner said. "I know our team, I know who we are and I know what we need to do. And I think our coaches are doing a great job bringing our young guys along, and when you win, I think it really helps those young guys get better."
The Bolts are looking to win at Denver on Sunday in order to take a 4-1 record into their bye week.
"We still haven't hit our stride without one of our best players on offense," McMichael said about Gates. "When he comes back, it's going to continue to get better and better."
"I think Antonio's making progress. I don't know how much progress that is," Turner said. "I know we continue to have a plan. Whether he's able to get ready this week, we'll just see where he's at. I know he plans on running tomorrow."
The last time Turner said the Chargers had "a plan" for a player, it was safety Bob Sanders, and he went on season-ending injured reserve a few days later.
Turner said Gates isn't a candidate for IR.
"This is a different plan," Turner said. "I still think he can catch 60 balls."
Gates had eight catches for 74 yards in the opener, then was shut out in a loss at New England.
"It's amazing how big a part of this offense he is," McMichael said of Gates. "It's really a tight-end friendly offense. He's one of the best who's ever played this game. You can tell when he's not out there. We really want him to be back out there. While he's not there we have to go out and continue to try to win games."
McMichael must be doing something right while filling in for Gates.
"He told me that I stole one of his moves, which I did," McMichael said.
The Chargers have struggled inside their opponents' 20-yard line because of penalties and poor execution. They're 16th in the NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns just eight times on 17 trips inside the 20, or 47.1 percent. Against the Dolphins, they were just 1 for 4. Their other TD was a 55-yard TD pass from Philip Rivers to Vincent Jackson.
Turner said center Nick Hardwick has a sprained neck and linebacker Takeo Spikes took a shot to the back.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.