San Diego, up a comfortable 24 points at the half and playing at home, turned the ball over five times and allowed 35 straight points in the second half to lose, 35-24. It marked the fourth-largest collapse in NFL history and the worst for a team playing at home.
The entire complexity of the Chargers' season changed over the final 30 minutes Monday night.
Looking at a 4-2 start and a two-game cushion over Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the AFC West, the Chargers are now a disappointing 3-3 and tied with Denver atop the division. A chance to take hold of the Wild Wild West was lost in heartbreaking fashion.
Now losers of three of four after a 2-0 start, the Chargers have continued their transformation into the Dallas Cowboys of the AFC: a classic underachiever with a quarterback who continually comes up small in the biggest moments.
Philip Rivers, doing his best Tony Romo impression in the second half, threw four total interceptions and lost two fumbles Monday night. Five of his six turnovers came in the second half as the Broncos rallied past their division rival. A strip sack was returned for a touchdown, as was a poorly thrown interception in the fourth quarter that sealed the game.
While Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has taken media attack after media attack for his turnover binge this season, Rivers now has 12 in 2012—just one behind Vick's 13. And since the start of the 2011 season, Rivers leads all NFL players with 37 total turnovers.
Thirty-seven turnovers is not a typo.
Teams with quarterbacks that frequently turn over the football usually finish with nothing better than a mediocre record. The 2011 Chargers were a perfect example, as Rivers threw 20 interceptions and fumbled seven times as San Diego finished a disappointing 8-8.
The turnover-laden Rivers could be on his way to leading the Chargers to a similar season in 2012. He is on pace for 32 turnovers this season.
With the Broncos surging in the West under Manning's direction, the Chargers likely only have a ceiling of eight or nine wins this season.
The three teams that have beat San Diego—Atlanta, New Orleans and Denver—were considered playoff teams before this season. That inability to win big games, especially in the fashion that the Chargers have this season, can demoralize a franchise.
While 9-7 might sneak the Chargers into the playoffs, the 2012 season certainly feels like it could be the last go-around for the combination of Rivers-Turner. The two have been together for the last six seasons.
Turner was already receiving questions about his job security during his post-game press conference Monday night. When asked about fans calling for Turner to be replaced both now and at the end of last season, Turner responded with, "I don't know what you're talking about."
If Rivers' turnover problems continue through the rest of the season, one could expect questions to be raised about his job security as well.
After a historic collapse Monday night, it is hard to look at this Chargers team as anything substantially different from the disappointing Turner teams of the past. Until there are changes at the top, that reality will likely remain in place.
As harsh as it seems now, another doomed season might just do the trick to cure what ails this franchise.
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