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Giveaway day at Qualcomm

Chargers couldn’t recover from a spate of turnovers

By Dan Hayes
Globe Correspondent / October 25, 2010

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SAN DIEGO -- Norv Turner was irritated.

For the fourth time in seven weeks, the Chargers coach was forced to address another game his team had given away. Even with a furious fourth-quarter rally, the Chargers came up just shy in an attempt to overcome four first-half turnovers in a 23-20 loss to the Patriots yesterday. The loss dropped the four-time defending AFC West champions to 2-5.

"It's a team that is struggling because we're not capable of taking care of the football,'' Turner said. "It's something that we take a lot of pride in around here for a long time. It's one of the best things we did as a football team last year when we won 13 games. Obviously, it's the worst thing we're doing right now.''

The Chargers' offense provided an exemplary level of care in 2009. A team that reeled off 11 straight victories and finished 13-3 only turned the ball over 17 times.

This season, the Chargers have 18 turnovers. Those mistakes have caused four winnable games to end in defeat.

Yesterday, the Chargers nearly overcame a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit. But Kris Brown's tying 50-yard field goal attempt with 22 seconds left -- one that was backed up 5 yards by a false start penalty on Louis Vasquez -- hit the right upright.

"Right now, it's us,'' quarterback Philip Rivers said of the team's mistake-prone identity. "We're a team that's making a lot of plays but can't put together a game without making critical mistakes.''

Two of yesterday's miscues weren't of the garden variety.

Tight end Kris Wilson's fumble was routine but costly as he turned the ball over to Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo at the San Diego 22. Five plays later, Tom Brady capitalized with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski.

It was only four plays later when the Patriots got possession courtesy of Chargers rookie wide receiver Richard Goodman, who fumbled away the first catch of his career without even being touched. Rivers found Goodman open over the middle on first and 10 from the San Diego 34 for a big gain until the receiver's own momentum brought him down at the New England 41. Believing he had been touched by a defender and the play was over, Goodman let go of the ball, only to realize his folly when James Sanders recovered the fumble.

"That was kind of crazy,'' said Goodman, who also recovered a fourth-quarter onside kick. "[The safety], the way he rolled over me, I thought he touched me. I was getting back up to get back in the huddle because we were on a fast pace like we were in the hurry-up offense.

"It was my mistake. Down or not down, I need to catch the ball and give it to the ref.''

Rivers said he saw his team's third turnover develop in slow motion. In an attempt to avoid a heavy pass rush, Rivers winged a swing pass in fullback Jacob Hester's direction. The throw missed Hester and was ruled a lateral. Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich alertly grabbed the ball and raced 63 yards to the San Diego 8. The Patriots took a 10-3 lead four plays later on Stephen Gostkowski's 40-yard field goal.

"I thought me and Philip were even and when he threw it, I reached forward and couldn't get it,'' Hester said. "I thought it was a forward pass. It never even crossed my mind that it was a backwards pass. Once I realized it and found the ball, it was too late.''

As it was, Rivers and the Chargers were already attempting to overcome adversity on offense.

The Chargers, who entered averaging 432.7 yards per game, have become accustomed to playing without holdout Vincent Jackson, their top wideout in 2009. But two receivers who had helped bridge the gap, Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee, were out yesterday with injuries. Tight end Antonio Gates was also saddled with a toe injury that would have sidelined him had the Chargers not owned a 2-4 record. Gates finished with four catches for 50 yards and a TD and helped key the late rally.

"I don't think we gave ourselves a chance to win with what we did in the first half,'' Turner said.

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