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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
|Carolina's Dante Rosario makes a leaping catch in front of San Diego's Eric Weddle Sunday in the Chargers' 26-24 win.|
SAN DIEGO -- Eric Weddle calls himself a "short-lived" type of guy. He had better hope his San Diego Chargers' Super Bowl aspirations don't fit the same description.
The second-year safety expects to be haunted by one image he witnessed up close and personal in Qualcomm Stadium Sunday: Carolina Panthers tight end Dante Rosario catching a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme on the final play of the Panthers' shocking 26-24 victory.
Weddle was in the vicinity of the play. But he has to let he has to let the memory of the play go.
"It can't stick," Weddle said. "I'm a short-lived type of guy"
Weddle and his teammates have to erase the sting of this stunner, or they might not fulfill that Super Bowl run so many have forecast for them.
This loss was significant to San Diego for many reasons.
The banged-up Chargers failed to do what their coach, Norv Turner, has been pounding into their heads all offseason: Start fast.
The Chargers were 1-3 and then 5-5 last season before catching fire and advancing to the AFC title game after an 11-5 regular-season finish. Turner and his team have said the difference between almost reaching the Super Bowl last season and getting there this season could be to play well at the start of the season.
That didn't happen. San Diego is now 0-1, along with Kansas City. The Chargers now get to watch Denver visit Oakland for the right to first place in the AFC West Monday.
The Chargers almost salvaged this season opener. They rallied from a 19-10 deficit with two touchdowns in the final 6:45 of the game. But a furious Carolina rally down the field in the final 2:27 ruined San Diego 's comeback.
Now they have to listen to all the talk about a slow start. Again
"We know it and that's why it is so frustrating," San Diego defensive lineman Luis Castillo said. "We don't want to be fighting just get to .500 in the eighth, ninth games of the season. We know that."
The Chargers also know that injuries are going to be an issue.
San Diego's impressive ride through the playoffs ultimately was decided by poor health. Quarterback Philip Rivers, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates and center Nick Hardwick all were injured entering the championship game in New England .
Gates' and Hardwick's injuries extended into this season as they both missed the preseason. Hardwick, who has a foot injury, didn't play against the Panthers Sunday. He was joined on the sideline by fellow Pro Bowl offensive lineman left tackle Marcus McNeill, who sat out with a neck stinger.
Gates played for the first time since having offseason surgery on his left big toe. He joined the running wounded list headed by linebacker Shawne Merriman.
Merriman made league-wide headlines late last month when he decided to try and play this season -- despite the recommendation by four specialists that he have season-ending surgery on his left knee. Merriman said he was going to fight it out like Gates because this is a Super Bowl-quality team.
Gates and Merriman both might have trouble playing effectively for a 16-game season if today was any indication. Merriman had to leave the field because of a knee brace issue late in the first half. He said that his biggest problem was adjusting to the brace. But he did say he was sore and he is interested to see how he feels Monday morning.
"Right now, my adrenaline is still going," Merriman said. "But I don't think I was slowed down much by the knee."
Gates was a bit more ominous. He said besides that the toe injury, he was also hampered by a hip injury sustained Sunday. It bothered him as the game progressed.
Gates made a rare mistake as he fumbled a short pass from Rivers. The ball was picked up by Carolina left cornerback Chris Gamble who ran 31 yards for the touchdown to give Carolina a 16-10 lead late in the third quarter. Gates redeemed himself with a 24-yard touchdown reception on a broken play to pull San Diego within two points at 19-17 with 6:45 to go.
After the game, Gates still was harping on the fumble that led to seven quick Carolina points. Gates didn't blame the fumble on his injuries but he said he had a lack of focus and he was rusty from not playing in the preseason.
The Pro Bowl tight end did say he didn't think he was physically ready to help the team win and he said he might have to "make the decision" later in the season if he doesn't rebound. Gates has said often this summer that one day the toe feels good and the next day he is hampered.
"The judgment part of it is what makes it tough; whether I'm helping the team or hurting the team," Gates said. "That's something we'll have to build on going through the season. I have to make the right judgment on whether I'm beneficial for the team or not."
A last-second loss. A slow start to the season. Injury-affected superstars.
It's as bad as it gets for San Diego is what was supposed to be the start to a super season.