Turner, Chargers back on the hot seat after loss
SEP 23, 2012 4:36p ET
The Atlanta Falcons jumped out to a 20-0 first-half lead and never looked back as they beat the Chargers 27-3. The Falcons are now 3-0, while the Bolts drop to 2-1.
It might also give critics of the Chargers' head coach Norv Turner renewed reason to call for a meeting of his head and a football chopping block.
Turner has been an NFL head coach for 15 years. He's won 109 regular season contests, compiling a 109-113-1 record going into Sunday's home game against the Falcons. (It's now 109-114-1.) He's 4-4 in the playoffs and is generally regarded as a brilliant offensive innovator; maybe the best in his sport. When the Dallas Cowboys won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992-1993, Turner was the offensive coordinator who molded Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Nate Newton and Jay Novacek — among others — into one of the most dominant units in NFL history.
The 60-year-old Turner has accomplished a lot during his 28 years in pro football, but going into the Falcons' game, he was chasing a minor — yet telling — personal milestone.
Not once in his 15 years at the helm of the Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders or the Chargers has Turner started a season 3-0. That stat is why Turner — despite his obvious knowledge of the game — comes under constant scrutiny, the perception being that his teams are inconsistent underachievers.
Right about now, his ears are probably ringing again with that familiar sound of criticism.
The Falcons forced the Chargers into four turnovers, including two picks of Philip Rivers' throws and a fumble recovery by safety Thomas DeCoud, giving Atlanta an NFL-best plus-10 takeaway differential. DeCoud said that forcing opponent mistakes is the top priority for the Falcon defense in 2012.
"We've got to get the ball back and we've got a lot of opportunities to do that," the five-year vet from Cal said. "Our play right now shows that. The more opportunities we give (QB) Matt (Ryan), the better opportunity we have to win."
Ryan was spectacular, picking apart the Charger defense for 275 yards passing and touchdown passes of 9, 8 and 7 yards to Julio Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers and Tony Gonzalez. Former Charger running back Michael Turner carried the ball 14 times for 80 yards and a TD, after which he posed like former Charger teammate LaDainian Tomlinson, who retired before the season. Ironically, Turner almost didn't play, as he was charged with alleged DUI following the Falcons' 27-21 Monday night win over the Denver Broncos.
Rivers probably wishes he didn't play, as he put together one of his poorest performances as a professional, going 21 of 38 for 173 yards, with two interceptions and a QB rating of 45.2. It was the fewest points the Chargers have scored in the nine years Rivers has been playing in San Diego, and the least in Turner's head coaching tenure.
And in typical Rivers style — being one of the most stand-up guys in the game — he had no problem assigning blame to himself. Even if his offensive line this season has been no better than average — and was much worse than that Sunday afternoon. He was constantly under pressure from the Falcons' front seven, but refused to make excuses.
"We just turned it over," he said disgustedly. "That pretty much sums it up right there.
"The way you lose games in this league is to turn it over. You turn it over four times and they turn it over once," Rivers said. "Late in the game, your chances of winning are pretty slim that way.
"The turnovers killed us."
And they put the head coach and his mediocre career won-loss record back in the spotlight.
Turner engenders amazing loyalty from his players, who will stick up for their leader whenever he comes under criticism. Rivers said that while Turner may appear to be laid-back, he's anything but that.
"People think that," the quarterback said, "but they're wrong. He's a fiery guy and he gets frustrated out there just like I do and the rest of the guys do. He wants to win and he's always trying to find ways to make us better and get us wins."
Sometimes it just doesn't work, as Turner's critics will continually attest.
"I really don't worry about that," Turner said. "All I'm worried about is preparing this team to win games.
"We didn't play well today, so we have to learn from this, and get better as a team. Atlanta is a very good team, and they've been together for longer than we have. We had a lot of changes to our roster, and we're still learning every day."
NOTES — The last time the Chargers were held to three points at home was on Oct. 24, 1999, when they lost to Green Bay, 31-3. It last happened on the road on Nov. 24, 2002, when they lost to Miami, 30-3.
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