Quarterback a sore spot in San Diego

No matter what happens this week, serious questions remain on the future of many San Diego Chargers. From the General Manager down to the water boy, jobs will be on the line. There is little that can save many and after watching Philip Rivers in the Tangerine Bowl, many are calling for the head of Drew Brees with a renewed gusto. His follies in the past two games earned him a benching and he remains 1-10 as a starter.

The turning point of the game happened with just over nine minutes to go in the third quarter.

"One of the biggest things was Troy's strip on the fumble and [Townsend] scooping it up," Cowher said. "No doubt in my mind, that was the play of the game."

The Chargers had rumbled back from 21 points down after scoring 17 unanswered with the ball in their possession. From the San Diego 25, Drew Brees dropped back to pass. Not finding anyone open he scampered along the line of scrimmage hoping someone would get open. No one did.

While looking downfield, Troy Polamalu closed the gap and sacked Brees while stripping the ball. Antonio Gates went in pursuit of the ball only to pull up as if he was about to block and Deshea Townsend corralled the ball just before it went out of bounds. Pittsburgh scored two plays later.

Even more disturbing was how far Polamalu had to go for the sack and forced fumble. Tomlinson had driven Polamalu 10 yards up the field before Polamalu hustled back into the play. With that kind of time on the run, it is time to just run with it.

"It had me blitzing to the running back," Polamalu said of the play in question, "trying to keep him in the backfield because LaDainian Tomlinson is such a threat in the passing game. We figured if we blitz at him, he wouldn't be releasing too much. He actually blocked me really good. The quarterback held the ball for a while and I was able to make the play on him."

It is the same old story for the Chargers. They get behind early and even if they come close to the mark, they fall horribly short in the end. Cure the penalties, continue to turn the ball over. Move the ball, fail to convert on third down and in the red zone.

"It was disappointing for us because we have moved the ball up and down the field for most of the season," said Brees. "But our third-down efficiency has been pretty poor the entire season. We are starting to pick that up, but our red zone efficiency has not been very good and we have turned the ball over too much. That is what has cost us to lose.

"Other than that we drive the ball up and down the field."

Marty Schottenheimer will tell Brees that the game has come down to "converting third downs and red zone opportunities." Still the befuddled coach has faith in Brees, at least until the end of this season.

"I have not lost confidence in Drew Brees," Schottenheimer said. "But he is going to have to step forward and show an ability to do this, to take care of the football, because it will continue to compromise our ability to succeed if we don't embrace that aspect of what we do."

Brees will be back in 2004. There is no doubt about that. What is in doubt is whether he will be the starter on this team. On the sidelines during the game, many players gave him a pat on the back to show their support.

At the same time, we all remember Marcellus Wiley's outburst on the need for change at quarterback earlier this season.

What will they say this offseason?

A reflective quote as the season winds down:

"It's frustrating to see us in terms of this record and to have the quality of football team we have is just frustrating because we should be a lot better than our record indicates and that's the hardest part to deal with, to know you're a better football team but you underachieved and didn't get it done earlier in the season and this is what you're left with. We have to deal with that disappointment and hopefully that fuels everybody going into next season."

Any San Diego Charger could have said it, but it was Jerome Bettis instead.

They have not listened to their coach this year, hopefully they listen to one of their peers.

Note:

The Chargers just lost their last standing starter from opening day (Kelvin Garmon) and their returning left tackle (Damion McIntosh). Even rookie replacements have fallen by the wayside in the last few weeks. Their starting linemen will miss game No. 39 of the season next week

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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