SAN DIEGO – Let's start with the "what if" scenario.
If the San Diego Chargers had somehow lost on Thursday night to the Kansas City Chiefs, there's a very serious chance that coach Norv Turner would have been fired, as had been reported earlier Thursday.
Owner Dean Spanos had thought through what he might do if the Chargers had lost their fourth straight game, two sources told Yahoo! Sports. As hard as it would have been (the Chargers don't have anybody else on the coaching staff who has ever been an offensive coordinator or who has called the plays), Spanos likely would have pulled the plug on Turner. And according to the aforementioned report, he would have been replaced by special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
Instead, Turner once again put his demise on hold as the Chargers cruised to a 31-13 win at Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego got to 4-4 with plenty of help from the Chiefs (1-7), who increased their league lead in turnovers to 29 overall and upped their turnover margin to minus-20.
Two of Kansas City's four turnovers were converted to touchdowns in the second half. Both of those came against quarterback Matt Cassel, who figures to be purged in the offseason along with general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel.
Those moves are but a fait accompli. The real question is whether Turner – who is still under immense pressure, according to one of the sources – will continue to survive his merry-go-round run on the coaching hot seat after getting to the midpoint of his 15th season as a head coach.
Every time you think Turner is about to get fired, he somehow survives and returns for another season. It's an amazing thing when you consider that Turner has reached a conference championship game only once in his career.
Turner knows that so well that he barely flinched as he walked out of the locker room. Strangely, Turner flashed an almost whimsical smile at questions about his job security.
"We've been through it so many times that the guys in there understand," Turner said, pointing toward the locker room. "We have a veteran group of players, a veteran group of coaches, and if I felt that they were being affected by it, I would pay more attention to it."
Likewise, quarterback Philip Rivers continues to believe that Turner handles the pressure with supreme tact and confidence.
"Everybody in that locker room sees how he reacts to it every week and he's straight ahead and focused," said Rivers, the son of a high school football coach. "Just because he doesn't throw his headset or stomp his feet or pound on the podium the way the public wants to see him do it doesn't mean that he doesn't do it with us.
"Norv has taken unfair heat his entire career and I just don't understand it."
In fact, Rivers said that despite the three-game skid that had brought the coach and team so much scrutiny, the Chargers had their practice of the season Tuesday.
"If you didn't know it, you'd have thought we were an undefeated team with how into it and how excited we were in practice," said Rivers, who was booed by the home crowd Thursday night.
All the same, there are players who worry about the situation. In fact, one player asked a reporter after the game, "Would Norv have been gone if we had lost this one?"
Doug Martin at Minnesota
In a year when rookie quarterbacks are getting most of the attention, another first-year player put on a show in prime time.
Rookie running back Doug Martin piled up 214 total yards, including a career-high 135 yards on the ground, and scored two touchdowns as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handed the Minnesota Vikings their first home loss of the season in a 36-17 road victory last Thursday.
Martin scored from long distance and from up close. He took a screen pass from quarterback Josh Freeman and rambled 64 yards for a touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 27-10 lead just 1:21 into the second half. In the fourth quarter, Martin helped cap off a drive that lasted more than nine minutes by muscling into the end zone from a yard out to help seal the win.
Martin has been a big reason why the Buccaneers (3-4) have already matched their win total from the 2011 season. The rookie is on pace for a thousand-yard season with 543 yards on 129 carries and three touchdowns. He's also caught 16 passes for another 224 yards and a score.
– Phil Watson
As it is, Turner is facing an uphill battle, even if there's still the dilemma of who would handle the offensive play-calling. Over the next two games, the Chargers go to Tampa Bay and then to Denver. They also have games with Baltimore and Pittsburgh. If that's not bad enough, it's not going to be easy for Turner to get fans to forget the historic collapse at home against the Broncos (the Chargers blew a 24-0 halftime lead) and subsequent 7-6 loss at Cleveland.
Those losses, particularly when taken in concert, are indelible. If the Chargers miss the playoffs for a third straight season, there is no question that fans will point to those two losses as the turning point.
Certainly Spanos was looking at it that way going into this game. Spanos took heat this offseason when he decided to bring back Turner and general manager A.J. Smith. These days, he's facing stunning levels of apathy for the team. The Chargers were 10,000 tickets short of selling out this game and needed six companies to kick in money to guarantee the sell out and make sure the game was shown locally (and thus avoiding the first local blackout of an NFL Network televised game).
And if you looked just casually at the stands, you could see huge gaps in prime ticket sections, if not almost empty areas in the upper levels. Fans here have started to tune out this team, even at a time when it's relatively competitive and pretty entertaining.
Fans here have grown tired of hearing what a great offensive playcaller that Turner is (that's a fact, if you ask even a moderate number of fellow NFL coaches) and how close the team has been to breaking through.
That's why when Turner talked about the "progress" the team is making on offense these days, it seemed almost laughable. The time has long since passed for Chargers fans to be satisfied by "progress."
They want a finished product.
Or they want Turner finished.
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