Although eliminated from playoff contention for the second year in a row, the San Diego Chargers did take advantage of their opportunity to play the spoiler role against their division rival, the Oakland Raiders.
A win would have given the Raiders the AFC West title. Still, despite playing in front of the home crowd, San Diego's Jekyll and Hyde offense proved to be too much for Oakland to handle in a game almost entirely dominated by the Chargers.
Norv Turner, though, finished his tenure as the head coach in San Diego on a positive note, maintaining his level of excellence during December and avoiding a losing season with the win over the Raiders. The Chargers finished the month at 4-1, which puts Turner's career record in December and January at 21-3.
Had he been just slightly more successful earlier on during the season, over the last five years, his legacy with the Chargers would likely have been far more memorable than it was. As it is, though, Turner will now be forever remembered in San Diego as the one who had the horses but never managed to capitalize on the opportunity he was given.
The win against the Raiders on Sunday falls well short of what would have been required of Turner in order to retain his position as the Chargers head coach.
Given how much talent the Chargers have, especially on offense, Turner's failure to lead his team into the postseason adds fuel to the fire for those who believe San Diego has grossly underachieved under his leadership.
A six-game losing streak during the middle of the season proved to be too much for San Diego to overcome, and the Chargers finished at 8-8. It was the third season Turner's Chargers finished at or below 9-7 in his five seasons with San Diego, and the second time they failed to qualify for postseason play.
Surely, Raiders' Coach Hue Jackson regretted his decision to play tight end Antonio Gates straight up early on in Sundays matchup against Oakland. Gates demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, that he could still destroy man coverage despite those who believe the future Hall-of-Fame tight end may have lost a step or two.
Gates, though, despite missing several games earlier in the season with lingering foot problems, led the team in receptions this season with 64, and his seven touchdowns was third behind receiver Vincent Jackson (nine) and running back Mike Tolbert (10).
Regardless of those who've argued that Gates is not the same player he was earlier in his career, based on his performance this year, he's got at least a few more All-Pro seasons left in the tank.
Despite having what was the worst season of his career, Philip Rivers' performance was stellar against the Raiders, putting up over 300 yards passing with three touchdowns and only one interception.
Although his numbers on the year might indicate a decline to some, with 4,624 yards passing and 27 touchdowns, there's no question that Rivers is still one of the best in the business at hurling the rock.
The truth is that pass protection, or a lack thereof, had more to do with Rivers' struggles than did anything else during the 2011 season. Rivers, however, knows as well as any that he needs to do a better job of protecting the football and not forcing throws—something he'd been known for excelling at heading into this year.
And while many have accused Rivers of falling short in comparison to the elite quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, a new coaching staff next season promises to put Rivers back at or near the top. That is, of course, provided that Chargers' management can do a better job of selecting a new coaching staff.
There are concrete reasons behind the accusations of underachievement leveled at Norv Turner since going 8-8 with the Chargers in his second season as head coach. First and foremost is the fact that San Diego has accomplished less with more talent than most.
General manager A.J. Smith has not made many friends among the press, the fans, the players or their agents during his reign. The tough-as-nails, uncompromising Smith has, however, kept the team stocked with more than enough talent to vie for a championship.
Few teams have had as much to work with as few can lay claim to a roster that boasts 11 former or current All-Pro players. More impressive is that each of the players in question were scouted, drafted and developed in San Diego.
In all, the Chargers have sent 16 different players to the Pro Bowl during his eight years as GM—something no other team has accomplished over that same time period.
Of course, the fans' perception is that it hasn't translated into a championship-caliber team. The truth is, though, that San Diego's roster has fewer holes than most and may be no more than an impact player at outside linebacker and a legitimate starting strong safety away from being set on both sides of the football.
The perception among many of both Smith's and Turner's peers is that the Chargers have been run into the ground by poor coaching and a lack of adequate leadership.
One thing is certain, though: If A.J. Smith is ultimately run out of San Diego, it won't have anything to do with his ability to run an effective scouting department.
Running back Mike Tolbert had nine carries for 58 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders in what may well be his last game in a Chargers uniform.
And while the fans can already be heard complaining about the loss of another great player and accusing San Diego of being a farm system, the truth is that no team can afford to pay two starting running back salaries.
However, given the fact that A.J. Smith is now five-for-five in scouting top-quality running backs since coming to San Diego, there's no reason to believe that he won't be able to find a worthy replacement for Tolbert.
That is, of course, if Smith's contract isn't terminated by the Chargers next week as has been speculated.