San Diego Chargers: 13 Games Removed from the AFC Championship, a Dismal 4-8.

Reed KaufmanCorrespondent IDecember 2, 2008

I just wrote an article expressing disbelief that the 2008-2009 NHL season is a quarter of the way through.

What is even harder to stomach is that the 2008 NFL regular season is more than three quarters finished.

This time last year, the San Diego Chargers were 8-4, with notable losses to the undefeated Patriots and to the Vikings, when one Adrian "All Day" Peterson ran for an NFL record 296 yards as a rookie.

They made it to the AFC Championship, losing to the New England Patriots again during their record-setting season.

Heading into the 2008 NFL season, San Diego was the favorite of many experts as the AFC representative in the Super Bowl, if not NFL champs.

They have since accomplished only disappointing everyone.

The Chargers seemed doomed from the get-go after suffering two heart-breaking losses in the first two games of the season.

The first was at home against Carolina, without star receiver Steve Smith, on a touchdown catch by tight end Dante Rosario, as time expired.

The second, was a high scoring shootout against division rival Denver, in which an admitted blown call by referee Ed Hochuli set up a Jay Cutler touchdown pass to rookie Eddie Royal. Unconventional coach Mike Shanahan then chose to try for two points to seal the game instead of kicking the extra point and forcing an overtime. The decision was a successful one.

Despite the 0-2 record, many still believed in the Chargers. And why not? Young Phillip Rivers has been maturing and showing signs of a potential pro bowl quarterback.

Antonio Gates is perhaps the best playmaking tight end in the NFL. Oh, and there's also Ladanian Tomlinson, who is currently second among active running backs in all-time rushing yards, at age 29.

Now we are between weeks 13 and 14, and the Chargers have only won four games, though two have been against potential playoff teams in the New York Jets and the New England Patriots.

It appears as though San Diego will inexcusably miss the playoffs this season. Whether they do or do not, who or what is to blame for their atrocious performance this season?

Many individuals have not performed as expected, for many reasons. Tomlinson and Gates have struggled with foot injuries, and star defensive end Shawne Merriman tried to tough out tears in both his PCL and LCL in his knee. Shockingly, his 2008 campaign did not last long.

Merriman's trip to the disabled list has taken the air out of a once highly-touted San Diego defense. They have been utterly despicable in most outings, and have never been able to intimidate like it did in '07.

With all these factors snowballing out of control, could it really have been possible to hold this team together?

The one piece that supposedly holds this puzzle together is the head coach.

Norv Turner has been criticized by San Diego fans since the day he replaced Marty Schottenheimer, some would say, unjustifiably. Perhaps the initial criticism was more aimed at the appointment, as Turner had only secured one playoff berth in nine NFL seasons.

He was hired under the assumption that he would maintain the offensive strategy that had catapulted the Chargers to a league leading 14-2 regular season record.

Wait, 14-2? Why on Earth would a team bring in a new coach after going 14-2? The mysteriousness of this question is perhaps what led to Chargers' fans' animosity towards Turner.

Since taking over, Turner has tried to take some of the pressure off of the Chargers' running game and use the aerial attack far more than before.

Tomlinson carried the ball 348 times in 2006, and why would they give the ball to anyone else? He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and broke the NFL single-season record with 28 rushing touchdowns, set by Shaun Alexander the previous year.

Five-foot, six-inch bullet Darren Sproles emerged as a potential ying to LT's yang early this year, but at this point, the Chargers have become a pass first team, or at least seems that way with how the running game has struggled.

The benefit of the doubt theory was that Turner was trying to create a more balanced team, but in truth, the identity of the team has been a complete mystery since the hiring of Norv Turner.

They used to be a running team, and the most dominant one at that. In 2007, they were a team that boasted many weapons, regardless of what the identity was. The most dominant weapon, in fact, was the stifling defense.

Now, it seems, that the only identity the San Diego Chargers can assume is a non-playoff team. The saddest part about this fact is that the Chargers play in what is assuredly the worst division in the AFC, and 2nd in the NFL, behind the NFC West.

Should a coach in any sport keep his job after turning a 14-2 team into, at this point best-case scenario, an 8-8 team (chances are, they won't win their four remaining games and most certainly not against the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay in week 16) in just two seasons?

I, for one, think not.