Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium, the San Diego Chargers lost to the San Francisco 49ers 41-6 in both teams' final preseason game. But, no matter how bad an exhibition game is, NFL head coaches are always looking for that silver lining.
Not this time.
"From watching the game, I don't think there were a whole lot of positives," said Chargers head coach Mike McCoy.
Another way of saying that is, the Chargers' performance was only slightly less depressing than the end of Old Yeller.
The only regular players who played were punter Mike Scifres (who had to make eight kicks, one of which was blocked when rookie Joseph Addae missed a block for the second time this preseason), kicker Nick Novak (who accounted for the only 6 points of the game with a pair of field goals), and long-snapper Mike Windt (because you can't have the other two without him).
Not a single offensive starter played against San Francisco. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst played the first half and was sacked four times, almost all of them because backup left tackle Max Starks was almost invisible.
"It was probably one of the worst games in my entire career," said Starks, the veteran with two Super Bowl rings from his time in Pittsburgh who was supposed to battle for the starting left tackle job but is now is danger of being cut when rosters are reduced from 75 to 53 players on Saturday.
In the second half, rookie QB Brad Sorensen was able to stay upright. But, he was also intercepted twice. Sorensen made the tackle on his 2nd pick, giving him more tackles this preseason than linebacker Manti Te'o, the Chargers 2nd rounder who was supposed to be a starter at middle linebacker, but played on two series in the first exhibition game and has been on the sidelines since with a foot injury.
Te'o was wearing his walking boot again on Thursday night. It's unknown if he'll be able to play by the season-opener on September 9 against Houston.
Now, a lot of folks will take solace in the fact the Chargers did not play most of their best players. However, when backups are only one injury away from being starters, the performance the Bolts put on Thursday night shows us just how bare former general manager A.J. Smith left the cupboard.
San Francisco's 3rd-team players, guys who likely won't even make the team, often outperformed San Diego's 2nd-teamers. The Niners are deep everywhere. The Chargers are deep nowhere.
The Bolts held the ball four and a half minutes longer than the 49ers, yet managed to run five fewer plays and only gain 219 total yards.
It was a night where nothing went right (or even well). With a mere 10 days until their regular season opener, on Monday Night Football against the Texans, it would appear the key to the Chargers season is clear.
Nobody is allowed to get hurt, because while no team has Pro Bowlers sitting on the bench, the Bolts would seem to have a lot harder time filling holes than most playoff contenders.