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Chargers Win Shifts Focus to Spanos

Rivers takes lead defense on Turner's behalf

By Michael Gehlken
|  Monday, Jan 2, 2012  |  Updated 9:26 AM PDT
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San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner speaks with quarterback Philip Rivers #17 during their game against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on January 1, 2012 in Oakland, California.

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So, what does Dean Spanos do now?

The final whistle Sunday to the San Diego Chargers season-finale win doubled as the offseason's starting pistol, turning all eyes to the team president.

Spanos is expected, likely sometime toward the middle of the week, to announce the job statuses of coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith, who've drifted into hot water with playoff absences the past two years.

A locker room in emphatic support of Turner provided a fitting final impression, bouncing the Oakland Raiders from the playoffs with a dominant offensive effort, keyed by a four-play, 99-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter in a 38-26 road win.

The victory did a few things.

It snapped a three-game losing streak to the Bay Area rival, secured the No. 18 spot in April's draft, and extended, with 406 points, the franchise's NFL record for most consecutive 400-point seasons to eight. It also set a franchise record with eight straight years without a losing record.

But what did it do to influence Spanos' decision on Turner, which team sources said was leaning toward his dismissal in the days prior?

"I hope it's not the end," said Philip Rivers, lead defense on The People v. Norv Turner case. "I'd be super disappointed."

The quarterback made a powerful closing statement after throwing for 310 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

The Chargers fell one win shy of their fourth playoff berth during Turner's five-year tenure, their season's most glaring loss coming in Week 8 against Kansas City when Rivers, in the flukiest of flukes, botched a critical fourth-quarter snap that swayed the result.

Maligned with injuries and turnovers, they later rebounded from a six-game skid and 4-7 record to finish 8-8.

"I really believe in him," Rivers said, "and I can't speak for every guy, but the guys that have been here, that know what this league is about, they all believe in him, too, and they all want him here. We all want him here.

"Percentage-wise, he's the winningest coach in the history of the franchise. What we went through this year, injuries-wise, bad quarterback play — some of that, he can't control any of that. And then to look up and go, 'Man, they're 4-7, and they fought back at 8-8.' In what many would call a meaningless game, we go out and play like we did."

Rivers, recently voted team MVP despite in many ways his worst statistical season, called it "unfortunate" the way the campaign transpired, knowing one win could have overtaken the Denver Broncos (8-8) for the AFC West title.

"But I believe Norv is the guy," Rivers said. "I haven't followed him when he was in Washington and Oakland and everywhere he's been, but from the five years with him, he's always had a false perception on the outside. Really, it's not his fault. Since the day he got here, it was, 'Why? Why is he here?' And we go to the AFC Championship game, and we all limped out there and almost got it done (against the New England Patriots in 2008).

"Almost doesn't count, I know. I can go on and on, but I speak for most of the guys that say they love playing for him, and I think it shows the way we rebound when we go through adversity."

Rivers wrapped up by praising Turner's tendency to not make the team's success about him. The comment was timely, as Turner, during possibly his final post-game press conference, was quick to credit his players' dedication.

"In the 49 wins, it's always been because we've played good," Rivers said. "In the 31 losses, he's took all the blame. He definitely could have started shuffling on us through that six-game stretch. I threw 11 picks. I fumbled snaps. I threw picks for touchdowns.

"If there's anybody to point to in that six-game skid, point to me. I think he's done a heck of a job. I know he has."

With that, the signal caller said his peace, the case turned over to Spanos, both judge and jury.

Does he agree on Turner? And how about Smith, the major maestro of personnel?

All rise for recess at Chargers Park.

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