With the AFC West still within reach and two games against weak competition left on the schedule, the Chargers seemed poised to close out the season with a flurry. After all, that's what they have become famous for during the Norv Turner era.
However, that was anything but the case Sunday, when the Bolts looked to be overwhelmed and disinterested by the cold temperature and high winds in Cincinnati. Instead of taking apart a bad Bengals team, San Diego fell behind quickly and never got back into the contest, losing 34-20 to end the club's playoff hopes once and for all.
The league's best pass defense allowed struggling QB Carson Palmer to have his best game of the season, throwing for 269 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, Philip Rivers did not get much help from his receiving corps and tossed only one TD pass as the QB who had never lost a December start suffered his second defeat of the month.
"This game ultimately was the final straw," Rivers said after the game, according to the team's official site. "This wasn't the game that necessarily put us out. We lost six other games along the way and put ourselves at 2-5.
"That's a tough hill to climb. We thought we could do it but we didn't get it done."
The PFW Spin
After the Chargers put themselves in yet another big hole to begin the season — something they have become experts at under Turner — it seemed they had fixed most of their problems and had a schedule tailor-made for them to rattle off a bunch of wins and challenge for a division crown. But things didn't turn out as they had planned, as the Bolts dropped December contests to the Raiders and Bengals and now will miss the playoffs for the first time since '05.
In one of the strangest campaigns in recent memory, the Chargers have a lot more questions than they do answers. Despite being ranked No. 1 in both total offense and defense for a bulk of the season and looking dominant on occasion, they looked all too ordinary plenty of other times, losing five games to inferior competition. Yes, injuries were a major factor throughout the season, and key players staging contract holdouts did not help, either, nor did poor special-teams play that cost the team multiple contests. But in the end, San Diego still should have been much better than it actually was and still should have been a playoff team.
Figuring out exactly what went wrong in '10 has to be a priority in the offseason, as does correcting the problem of struggling out of the gate. Obviously, there will be lots of talk about whether Turner will be back as head coach, but it would be a surprise if he were fired given the strange circumstances he dealt with this season and how much the organization respects him. While many outside the team believe he is part of the problem, the Chargers are likely to make him part of the solution as they attempt to get back on track in 2011.