Phillip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers looks away after speaking with Norv Turner during the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on November 20, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
"One! Two! Three! Four! The San Diego Chargers have hit the floor!"
"Five games, proclaim: All these losses seem the same!"
Poor field position, poor red-zone offense, poor ball protection, poor clock management — the lack of Chargers wealth of late has them well outside the NFL's elite, and in the AFC West, now no team is worse.
Mistakes, not injuries, are what doomed the depleted Chargers on Sunday, as the team coughed up the ball three times in the second half, including two head-scratching Philip Rivers interceptions, to lose 31-20 at Soldier Field.
The Chargers (4-6), losers of five straight, are on their longest skid since an 0-5 start in 2003.
"I talked a lot this week about our best players having to play their best because we were shorthanded in some other areas," coach Norv Turner said. "In some instances, we were able to do that. In some, we weren't."
Rivers threw for 280 yards, and during most the game, he played brilliantly — little like the quarterback who has been selling off interceptions like stock on Wall Street. But two errors closed the night.
The Bears led 31-20 in the fourth when cornerback Antoine Cason returned an interception 64 yards to the Chicago 16. Rivers tried to squeeze a third-down pass to wide receiver Vincent Jackson in the end zone. The ball went wrong to safety Major Wright.
Rivers was picked off again by Corey Graham in the closing minutes, a baffling decision to throw in the flat instead of safely discarding the ball out of bounds. The blunder boosted his interception total to his jersey number, a league-worst 17.
In a critical tide-turner, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman stick-jabbed Chargers running back Ryan Mathews to force a fumble the Bears recovered with 5:32 left in the third quarter, and their offense converted the gaffe into the game's largest lead at 31-17.
It was Mathews' second fumble of the day, as the second-year back with elite potential still struggles to put it all together.
Rivers completed 21 of 31 passes; Jackson caught seven for 165 yards. That's the good news.
The bad: The Chargers ran four plays in the fourth quarter. The first two were incompletions. The final two were interceptions.
There was a time when the Chargers could play from behind, stay close, and trust Rivers to do the rest in the final seconds. But there's been no magic this season. Rivers, working without his A-game and some of his A-team, is a pedestrian 62-for-104 with five touchdowns and six interceptions in the fourth quarter.
And now the Chargers are in the AFC West basement, a half game behind the Kansas City Chiefs (4-5), a game behind next week's opponent, the surging Denver Broncos (5-5), and two back of the 6-4 Oakland Raiders.
A poor place to occupy.
A Chargers turnaround now would make history.
No Super Bowl-bound team has ever lost five straight games. The 2002 Oakland Raiders are the only Super Bowl team to lose four straight.
Injury to Insult
The Chargers did their AFC West rivals a favor.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb in the fourth quarter on a hit from middle linebacker Donald Butler. Cutler will reportedly undergo surgery and is expected to be sidelined until late this season.
In their next three weeks, the weakened Bears face, in order, the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos.