Norv Turner, head coach of the San Diego Chargers, looks down the sideline during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on November 20, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Chargers 31-20.
Philip Rivers can't recall losing five straight games in any competitive sport, unless dominoes count.
Not in high school. Not during his career at North Carolina State.
But Rivers and the San Diego Chargers have lost five straight games, the franchise's worst streak since going 0-5 to open the 2003 season. Back then, LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees were in their third NFL season, and the struggling Brees was benched for five games by coach Marty Schottenheimer.
The latest setback was a 31-20 loss at Chicago on Sunday in which Rivers threw two more interceptions and Ryan Mathews had another costly fumble. The losing streak has erased the fastest start in Norv Turner's five seasons as coach and dropped the Bolts (4-6) into last in the AFC West, two games behind Oakland with six to play.
The Chargers have had late-season rallies under Turner to reach the playoffs, but they stumbled last December and missed the postseason. This season could hinge on Sunday's home game against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, who have won three straight to jump into second place in the division.
Rivers was asked Monday if the team's mentality this week in practice will be that the season is on the line.
"It's hard to deny that in a lot of ways," Rivers said. "Is the season over if (we lose)? No. Who knows what can happen. But certainly we know how big this game is, just how we knew how big Chicago was and how we knew how big Oakland was and how big Green Bay was. They're all huge.
"I hope guys don't prepare harder this week and play harder this week because that means we've been shorting ourselves the last five," Rivers said. "But I do think from a mentality, we know we've got to find a way to win this game. That's been the last mentality the last few weeks as well. If there's such a thing as digging any deeper, certainly we all need to do that."
Against the Bears, the Chargers failed to finish again, which has become a familiar theme.
"It's aggravating because we're preparing hard, practicing hard, playing hard," Rivers said. "In the games, we're fighting like crazy to win. There are no excuses, though. We just have to do it."
Rivers has thrown a career-high 17 interceptions, which lead the NFL. He's also lost four fumbles.
It appears that the Chargers' lack of a dominant playmaker on defense has caught up with them.
Turner raised some eyebrows with some comments Monday.
"We are having a tough time eliminating negative plays," Turner said. "I can show you stretches of guys playing as good as they can play. OK? That's what I'm going to tell you. There are a lot of guys that are playing as good as I believe they can play. There's some guys like (Antwan) Barnes and three or four of those guys in the front that are playing way too many snaps, that shouldn't be playing 60 snaps a game. So when you're in that situation, sometimes your deficiencies show up more than you would like them to. (Travis) LaBoy and Barnes very rarely come out of the game."
Barnes, a fifth-year pro, has made four starts at outside linebacker in place of Shaun Phillips, who's been sidelined by a foot injury. LaBoy has started at the other outside linebacker spot, the one where former first-round draft pick Larry English would be playing if he hadn't gotten hurt.
"Antwan Barnes is playing as hard and as well as he can play," Turner said. "But if he's playing 60 plays a game, at some point your deficiencies are going to show up."
Chargers fans remain livid with the losing. Perhaps sensing that the Bolts could miss the playoffs for a second straight season, there's a strong clamor for team President Dean Spanos to fire Turner and general manager A.J. Smith.
Spanos and Smith have declined interview requests.
Turner has two years remaining on his contract, which was quietly extended the night after the Chargers' embarrassing home playoff loss to the New York Jets in January 2010. Turner was hired in 2007 after Schottenheimer was fired due to an icy relationship with Smith. Turner's overall record in three stops as a head coach is 103-111-1.
This isn't Turner's first five-game losing streak as a head coach.
With Washington, Turner had losing streaks of five and seven games in 1994, and a seven-game skid to open 1998. He was fired after the 13th game in 2000. His Raiders lost five straight in 2004 and their last six of 2005, which got Turner fired.
Smith, who was promoted to GM after John Butler died of cancer in April 2003, has three years left on his contract.
The Chargers have only three of their last seven first-round draft picks on the active roster. Shawne Merriman, Antonio Cromartie and Craig Davis are gone. The oft-injured English, who has only seven sacks in 29 games in three seasons, is out for the season. Cornerback Antoine Cason has struggled this season, although he did have an interception Sunday. The other two are Mathews and rookie defensive end Corey Liuget.
Turner said Mathews relaxed with the ball before Charles Tillman stripped and recovered it, setting up a touchdown that gave the Bears a 31-17 lead in the third quarter.
"It's very disappointing," Mathews said Monday. "The ball wasn't loose or anything. It was tucked away and he just made a good play."
But he said he needs to get his pads lower so defenders won't have a full shot at the ball.