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Monday, October 24, 2011
Chargers are just too soft

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This wasn't just Rex being Rex. There was more to it. This was complicated, and messy, and perhaps most damning of all, undoubtedly true.

That is why, after he said he would have won a couple of Super Bowl rings with the San Diego Chargers if he had been given the Chargers' coaching job over Norv Turner, Rex Ryan immediately got Turner on the phone to apologize.

Turner was blissfully ignorant at the time, but once he actually heard what Ryan told San Diego reporters during a conference call last week, Turner uncharacteristically fired back at Ryan.

Ryan
Rex Ryan's comments about the Chargers might have been innocent enough, but they were spot-on.

Turner went against type. Not Schwartz-versus-Harbaugh aggressive, but biting nonetheless, which tells you all you need to know. Ryan was right, and Turner knew it. And boy, it didn't feel good.

On Sunday, Ryan's New York Jets continued to expose Turner, whose Chargers are soft. That is a direct reflection on the coach. They have no killer instinct, and they are serial underachievers. Start slow, start fast, it never seems to matter. San Diego does not finish.

Just look at Sunday's game. This was the Chargers' chance to show that their biggest flameout of the Turner era -- a 17-14 playoff loss to the Jets in January 2010, when San Diego was the No. 2 seed, coming off a bye week and playing at home -- was just a fluke. This was their chance to show that Ryan wasn't the better coach that day or ever, that the organization didn't make a mistake in picking Turner over Ryan in 2007.

What did the Chargers do instead? They blew a 21-10 halftime lead and lost 27-21 because Turner could not counter Ryan's halftime adjustments. San Diego moved the chains at will in the first half against a Jets defense that has excelled at getting off the field, but in the second half, the Chargers could get nothing. One first down in the third quarter. One trip into Jets territory in the entire second half. One third-down conversion.

After the Jets took a 24-21 lead on Plaxico Burress's third touchdown reception of the game, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Chargers would not answer. On their previous possession, Philip Rivers bounced a pass off Vincent Jackson's hands that Darrelle Revis intercepted and returned 64 yards. It was the closest Jackson got to a big play all day.

Needing a touchdown to retake the lead, the Chargers managed one first down. On third-and-6 from the San Diego 41-yard line, Rivers threw deep for Jackson, and again he was picked off. Rivers targeted Jackson eight times on the day, and Jackson finished with one catch for 15 yards.

New York turned the interception into three points to push the lead to 27-21. Rivers and the Chargers got the ball back at their own 24-yard line with 1:29 to play. The first play went to Antonio Gates for 18 yards. The second was a short Rivers pass to Patrick Crayton for a 3-yard gain. The next play was a short pass to Ryan Mathews for 4 yards.

Time was ticking away. San Diego had no timeouts and yet it wasn't running plays to the sidelines. After Rivers threw an incompletion on third down, he misfired on a short pass to Gates on fourth down. The Jets took over on downs, and one Mark Sanchez kneel-down later, the game was over.

"At halftime, we adjusted," Revis said, noting that the Jets' defensive backs played tighter coverage on the Chargers' receivers and communicated better on third down.

Plaxico Burress
The failure to adjust against Plaxico Burress was just one of many for the Chargers.

What Revis didn't note was that San Diego did not adequately adjust, and ultimately, that's on Turner. Burress was killing corner Antoine Cason in the red zone, and yet Turner left Cason in single coverage on most downs, to disastrous results.

Getting the ball to open the second half, the Chargers had a chance to put the Jets away, and they didn't. Stalled drives. Penalties. Turnovers.

There is talent there, but what else?

That is the story of Turner's reign. He has had talent, an above-average quarterback, a future Hall of Fame running back, a punishing defense, and what has he won? Three division titles are nice, but only three playoff wins, with no trips to the Super Bowl?

It's no wonder Ryan said what he did about Turner and the Chargers. "I'm telling you, those teams were loaded, there's no question about it," Ryan said innocently enough, but the unstated implication was that Turner had underachieved.

The San Diego players heard Ryan, and also heard the usually vanilla Turner fire back, "I was wondering if [Ryan] had those rings with the ones he's guaranteed the last couple of years."

"We all take it personal," Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes told me after inhaling a postgame sandwich just before getting on the team bus. "It's part of what Rex does. He likes that. That's how he gets off. A lot of guys don't like to be proactive. If it's in the game, it's in the game. We're in sports."

Spikes said that he "absolutely" wanted to win this game for Turner.

"I wanted to come in here and finish this second half like we did the first half," he said. "That's big. I don't like anybody talking about our quarterback or our head coach. Period. I don't like that."

Like Turner, Ryan hasn't won a ring as a head coach, but he has been to back-to-back AFC Championship Games. Turner got a contract extension in early 2010 after his team finished 13-3 but lost at home in the playoffs to the Jets. The Chargers had the top-ranked offense and defense last season, but didn't make the playoffs despite winning seven of their last nine games.

They sit now at 4-2, much better than the 2-5 start of a year ago. But there are still questions about what this team is, or is not.

"All I hear for six months was that the regular season didn't matter," Rivers said. "Now, everyone wants to know what is the matter? We are 4-2. We've been worse. We had a chance to win this game, but we didn't."

San Diego didn't win because it could not close, and that is on the head coach.

INSTANT REPLAY

What I learned from Week 7:

Drew Brees
Drew Brees and the Saints appear to finally be hitting their stride.

The Saints had a night to remember. Some games you never forget. Michael Vick versus Washington last year was one of those nights. Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense versus Indianapolis on Sunday night is another.

The Eagles trounced the Redskins, 59-28, in Week 10 last year, and the Saints destroyed the Colts, 62-7. New Orleans gained 557 total yards of offense, had 36 first downs, converted seven of eight red zone opportunities, committed just one penalty and had zero turnovers. Brees was a ridiculous 31 of 35 for 321 yards and five touchdowns before Sean Payton mercifully pulled him late in the third quarter.

The 62 points tied a record for the most points since the AFL-NFL merger, and the 55-point differential tied the biggest margin since the merger. Payton coaching from the booth after having surgery to repair injuries suffered in a sideline collision was clearly not a factor.

"We spent a lot of time in the week talking about us, playing our best football," Payton said afterward. "Although we were 4-2, we hadn't done that."

The Saints have now.

Christian Ponder looks like the rookie quarterback with the most upside. Six quarterbacks made their first start of the season Sunday, and Ponder appears to have the most promise. And yes, before Tebow Nation gets rolling, I realize that Tim Tebow was the only one of the six to actually get a win, and that he helped orchestrate a 15-point comeback in the final three minutes against Miami to force overtime. He's got heart and guts and all that other stuff that doesn't show up on the stat sheet.

But, as they say in the South, Tebow also couldn't hit the broad side of a barn for the first 57 minutes. He throws off his back foot. He doesn't square up, doesn't step into his throws. He runs at the hint of trouble.

Ponder missed on his fair share of throws against Green Bay, too. But he was effective in play-action. He made big throws down the field, like his first of the game to Michael Jenkins that went for 72 yards. Yes, Ponder threw two picks to Charles Woodson, but he also threw two touchdowns and had the Vikings in the game late against the defending champs.

Tebow is a fascination that eventually could fizzle. Ponder looks like a true NFL quarterback.

None of that group of six is better than Cam Newton. There are three ways to get respect in sports: Be a freakishly gifted athlete, be incredibly tough, or be consistently good. Cam Newton has been all three.

Newton is Carolina's franchise, not just its franchise quarterback. He is learning how to win, and he did Sunday against Washington, passing for 256 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. It was Newton's second career win, but more are on the way. A lot more.

If the report out of Atlanta is true, Ndamukong Suh can no longer claim he isn't a dirty player. Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Falcons wide receiver Roddy White and center Todd McClure accused Suh and Cliff Avril of taunting Matt Ryan after Ryan went down with what looked to be a serious knee injury.

"I had respect for Suh before the game," McClure told Schultz. "But when Matt was on the ground, the things he was saying and the trash he was talking was definitely uncalled for. There are certain things you don't do. [He said], '‘Get the cart' and several other things that I can't repeat."

Schultz could not find Suh or Avril for comment after the game.

Suh is an intimidating, talented, aggressive player who harasses quarterbacks with the best of them. But taunting one who is lying on the ground after suffering a potentially serious injury? If it's true, that is classless and unacceptable and, yes, dirty.

Ryan is tougher than I thought. It really looked like his knee could have been shredded. Ryan went to the locker room with Atlanta leading 17-6 but came back into the game and on his first play threw a 48-yard strike to Harry Douglas.

The Falcons have a bye this week, and then go to Indianapolis before hosting three straight home games. They need to keep working Michael Turner, who gets that offense going, and keep Ryan upright and off his linemen's feet.

It is down to a three-team race for Andrew Luck. St. Louis, Indianapolis and Miami appear to be the top contenders to get the No. 1 overall pick and the right to select Luck. All three are winless. All three are hurting. All three are without their starting quarterbacks, which makes Luck look all the more attractive.

But all three can't have the Stanford quarterback, so who will get him? Miami, and the reason is the schedule. Of the Dolphins' remaining 10 opponents, only one does not have a winning record after seven weeks, and that's the grossly underachieving 2-4 Eagles. The Dolphins' remaining opponents are 37-26, while the Rams' are 33-29 and the Colts' are 27-39. Surely there is a win in there somewhere for the Rams and Colts.

The Fish? They've got an excellent chance to go 0-for-the-season before their luck changes.

CJ2K is CJMIA. You hate to say that it's all about the Benjamins, but in Chris Johnson's case, it is hard to argue that it's not all about the Benjamins. Johnson held out of Tennessee's training camp until Sept. 1, when he signed a four-year, $53.5 million contract with $30 million guaranteed.

With the exception of one 100-yard game against Cleveland in Week 4, Johnson has been missing in action ever since.

Sunday against Houston, Johnson gained a season-low 18 yards on 10 attempts. His 2.9 yards per rush this season is the lowest among players who qualify for the rushing title.

CJ2K, where are you?

SLEEPING IN THE OFFICE

Issues that will keep coaches awake this week:

Arian Foster
Arian Foster shredded the Titans, and the Jaguars have a tough task trying to stop him in Week 8.

Arian Foster isn't MIA. Check out these numbers: Foster combined for 234 rushing and receiving yards on Sunday, and the Tennessee Titans netted 148 total yards. Foster became the first player since the NFL-AFL merger with at least 100 receiving yards (119 on five catches), 100 rushing yards (115 on 25 carries) and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) in a single game.

After Jacksonville plays Baltimore on "Monday Night Football," Foster will become Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker's responsibility. Jacksonville plays at Houston in Week 8, and Tucker will have his hands full.

It's going to be tough to knock Aaron Rodgers out of his zone. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Rodgers on Sunday became the first quarterback this season to have only one incompletion because of an overthrown or underthrown ball. He threw only six incomplete passes against Minnesota -- two he threw away, two his receivers dropped and one was the result of a spike.

Otherwise, near-perfection from Rodgers. Again.

San Diego, you've got next, but Rodgers and the Packers have a bye first. Good luck with that.

It will take the Colts a long time to shake the humiliation of their Week 7 loss. New Orleans put a 62-7 drubbing on Indianapolis on Sunday night on national television. Head coach Jim Caldwell has to hope he does not lose his team as a result. It is hard enough to preside over a winless team. It is impossible to preside over one that quits.

Plaxico Burress is still 6-foot-5 and a beast in the red zone. Just ask San Diego cornerback Antoine Cason.

Cason was singled up on Burress for all three of Burress' touchdown receptions on Sunday. Cason is 6-foot-1, and like many cornerbacks before him, he could not compete with Burress' size in the end zone.

"Hey, I don't want to take anything away from him," Cason told me, "but I beat myself on those plays. He definitely made the plays, but there was nothing that was over the top about that. Down there I beat myself. That can't happen."

Tell that to the Bills' cornerbacks. They will see Burress after the Jets' bye this week.

The Eagles aren't missing by much, and they know it. Their biggest problem this season has been hanging on to the football. Philadelphia has a minus-8 turnover ratio, second worst only to Pittsburgh heading into the weekend. But when the Eagles have protected the football, they have moved it essentially at will. Offense isn't really the problem.

"Is there time [to make a run'? Oh yeah, shoot, absolutely," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg told me last week. "We've done it before, although that means nothing. People don't want to play us. We always have them on their heels, and then we give them the ball too many times."

In Week 8, Rob Ryan will get his first crack at the Eagles as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator and his first up-close look at Michael Vick 2.0. And there is this stat to consider: In 12 previous seasons under Andy Reid, Philadelphia is undefeated coming out of the bye week.

The Eagles might be 2-4, but if they can eradicate the turnovers, they might be on the cusp of a big run.

RANT AND RAVE

A coach who will be under review today:

Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer never should have seen the field against the Chiefs.

Hue Jackson knew Carson Palmer wasn't ready. He knew Palmer was rusty, and understandably so after sitting out the first six weeks of the season. Jackson couldn't just rush in and overwork Palmer's right arm. That's why he tried to ease Palmer back into football mode.

Last week, Jackson gave Palmer no more than 20 percent of the first-team snaps in practice. Palmer barely had time to digest 10 percent of the playbook. He had a baseball hat on after halftime on Sunday because he knew he wasn't going to play against Kansas City. Why would he?

And yet Jackson decided to put Palmer in the game in the third quarter with the Raiders trailing 21-0. If Palmer wasn't ready to start the game, why was he suddenly ready to come in midway through and try to win it? If the idea was to ease Palmer back, why was Jackson in such a rush?

Yes, Kyle Boller was awful, but a rusty, ill-prepared Palmer was just as bad. Like Boller, Palmer threw three picks. Like Boller, his passer rating was in the neighborhood of the yards-per-catch average of Steve Smith or Mike Wallace.

It would've been better to let Palmer watch from the sideline, then drill him to death during the bye week and have him ready to go against the Denver Tebows on Nov. 6.

TWEET THIS

Notable tweets from around the league:

"Pay that man #forte" -- @Jones_Drew32, Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew after Chicago running back Matt Forte ripped off a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the Bears' 24-18 win over Tampa Bay in London, England.

"Congrats to my homey @plaxico 2 td catches doing his thing!!! #Salute" -- @MikeVick, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, before the fourth quarter of the Jets-Chargers game started and Burress got his third touchdown catch. In August, Vick lobbied the Eagles to bring Burress to Philadelphia to be a big red zone target.

"Say what u want but @Revis24 is one bad dude..legend in the making" --– @DwyaneWade, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade after Revis picked off Philip Rivers, returning the interception 64 yards.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.