There is nothing so resolute as the end of a team’s NFL playoff hopes. There is nothing so absolute as to how bad your team is until you get hammered at home by another bad team. There is nothing so final as a crushing loss to the other team whose coach is also about to get fired.
In the history of this 50-year plus old franchise, there have been bad times — the drug scandal seasons of the 1970s and the 1-15 debacle wrapped of the horror-show quarterback Ryan Leaf.
This 5-9 team feels as bad as those, maybe with an even greater ache, because this was an elite team just a couple of years ago.
What Chargers fans saw on Sunday was a disgrace.
In vintage fashion, a team coached by Norv Turner, looked unprepared, ill-motivated and tired as they lined up against a 4-8 Carolina team, playing out the string for their soon-to-be axed head coach Ron Rivera.
Sunday’s shelling was effectively over before Chargers fans could finish their first beer. The game was awful, the stats one-sided and the fire and passion are gone. A 21-0 deficit didn’t even give fans time to boo and that was ten minutes into the game.
It was insult. It was injury. It was a beat down by a former family member. Rivera was defensive coordinator in San Diego before getting his first head coaching job.
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, was a key assistant on this Bolts staff too. And Mike Tolbert, running angry, scored the first two touchdowns of the game, slamming the ball into the turf each time, probably casting a glance at General Manager A.J. Smith, who ran him off this past off-season.
It was pitiful in every facet of the game. Antoine Cason’s cheap personal foul penalty fueling the opening drive. Quentin Jammer’s huge holding penalty that led to a first down. Three offensive procedure calls by that patched up offensive line. A roughing the punter flag. A face mask penalty. Twelve-men-on-the field, too. They dug themselves a hole.
The once-proud, once-dangerous Philip Rivers is watching his career erode on this team. There were four fumbles — two lost — by the one-time Pro Bowler. He was sacked five more times. He lost his running back Ryan Mathews, the China Doll, with a shoulder injury. Rivers had 45 yards passing at halftime. Mathews had 22 yards rushing. Star tight end Antonio Gates caught two passes. These are your highest paid players. There was virtually nothing from any other of the high-priced wide receivers.
At one point in the first half, Carolina had a 150-10 yardage advantage — that’s no misprint — 150-10. They finished with a 372-162 yardage advantage. The Panthers, quarterbacked by the dynamic Cam Newton, had a club record 29 first downs. They ran off 77-44 plays and dominated time of possession.
The Chargers looked tired. Maybe it was the aftermath of their emotional win in Pittsburgh last weekend.
Week 15 around the league saw some terrible beatings. Seattle stomped Buffalo. Atlanta trashed Tampa Bay. Arizona lost a week ago 58-0. Maybe it’s too long of a season for teams with too little talent. But it’s hard to imagine this once-dangerous Chargers franchise has been reduced to this wreckage.
Shame on me for thinking the Chargers could actually “run the table” and win the final four games and wind up 8-8. Maybe the phrase today is “run these guys out of town.”
There were hardly any boos at the end of the game, because there was hardly anyone left in the stadium. By the fourth quarter, it looked like less than 10,000 fans were on hand.
It wasn’t just that they lost to the equally bad Carolina Panthers, it was how they lost, how they played, how awful they looked. You hate to use the non-professional word “quit,” but it’s hard not to think of that with how bad this started and how bad it ended.
It’s almost over, this toothache-root canal of a season. Two games to go. A trip to New York to face the lousy Jets and a season finale at home in a game that will likely resemble the Black Hole, filled with costume-wearing, junk-talking fans wearing silver and black, when the wretched Raiders come to town to bid farewell to the sorry season.
Nothing so resolute as getting killed at home, seeing your record go to 5-9, missing the playoffs for the third year in a row. And nothing so final as the scoreboard that reads it is time to clean house on the second floor at Chargers Park – coaches, scouts, general manager and, some wish, the owner.