How did the Chargers lose?

It seemed improbable. The San Diego Chargers held a firm advantage on Sunday but let it slip away. It is the fifth time since the start of the 2005 season that they have blown a fourth quarter lead. Championship teams win the games late.

Sure it stings. Stings bad when you dominate a team for most of a game then leave without a win.

That was the feeling the day after the Chargers lost yet another game in the fourth quarter -- their first since last season. This time they fell to the Ravens. 16-13, on Steve McNair's late touchdown pass.

The Chargers were well in control and appeared headed to a 3-0 record. But they never moved off the 13 points they put up in the first half and the result was letting the Ravens hang around and eventually win the game.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer, amazing as it seems, went conservative in the second half. Philip Rivers was allowed to throw but eight passes in the second half. And the Chargers were a dreadful 3 of 13 on third downs, with many of the calls being running plays smack into a line of scrimmage stacked with Ravens.

But Rivers wouldn't blame the coach. That's no shock, considering this is Rivers' first year as a starter and Schottenheimer's 30th year as a coach.

"We know what it takes to win," Rivers said. "But the interception hurt us, the penalties hurt us and not capitalizing on turnovers hurt us.

"Every team that lost (Sunday) would have two or three of those same things they didn't do well."

The Chargers aren't feeling well after such a tough loss. Especially with the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers arriving on Sunday. The Steelers are coming off a bye -- like the Chargers were going into the Ravens game -- and are hungry for a win after losing two of their first three games.

Schottenheimer wouldn't admit he played his cards close to the vest in Sunday's loss. He said the opponent determines how he approaches a game and with the Ravens not known for being explosive on offense, it wasn't wise to get risky with the ball or the play-calling.

Instead, Schottenheimer reasoned, the odds were in the Chargers' favor if they just held on to the lead, played the field position game and let their defense do the rest.

But the defense got tired at the end with a deplorable third-down conversion mark. It faltered down the stretch and some wonder if the Chargers will rebound so quickly after a key loss.

Some also wonder if Schottenheimer is punching his ticket out of town with another close loss. Schottenheimer has never been a favorite of general manager A. J. Smith and Smith was visibly upset in the press box as the game started to unravel.

Schottenheimer, though, is clear in why he does the things he does. And he's not apologizing for the way things went on Sunday -- and he's clear that the Chargers didn't go into a shell.

"I don't think that we do that," Schottenheimer said. "I think what we do is we plan and prepare ourselves for means by which we can win every football game. I don't think so. That wasn't the case."

Rivers doesn't think the Chargers will have trouble rebounding.

"We'll move forward, learn from it and bounce back," he said.

But before they do, they realize they wasted a golden opportunity to grab a road win.

"We had a chance to win the game late," Rivers said, "and we let it slip away."

Rivers didn't approach the Ravens game as it being a test as how good the Chargers are. Their previous wins came against the hapless Raiders and Titans.

"I wasn't approaching it that way," he said. "It was the toughest opponent I'd face. It was a tough test for this team. How are we going to be measured by this game? I don't know, but we have a lot of games left. It's tough losing those kind of games but you've got to find a way to regroup and go back at it next week."


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