San Diego Chargers head Coach Norv Turner looks on from the sideline against the Denver Broncos on November 27, 2011 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Broncos won 16-13 in overtime.
The San Diego Chargers offensive line sure couldn't save quarterback Philip Rivers from taking a pounding.
So the man with the headset did.
Head coach Norv Turner, to the boos of tens of thousands at Qualcomm Stadium, made one conservative decision after the next Sunday in key offensive situations, and poor all-around execution had the Chargers hobbling to a 16-13 overtime loss against the Denver Broncos.
The question now: At 4-7, who can rescue Turner? He's watching his quarterback's back. Does Chargers ownership still have his?
By not being more aggressive with his playcalling, Turner probably lost out in the court of public opinion, if he hadn't already.
Had he called more pass plays, opening Rivers to more punishment, and the Chargers lost because of a strip-sack or under-pressure interception, the story fans may have told driving home was how, darn it, the bandages wore off that rag-tag offensive line. And Turner's team has lost six straight games and is three back in the AFC West with five to play, but he doesn't have the personnel to succeed.
Backup Chargers left tackle Brandyn Dombrowski finished the game with a foot injury. Rookie Stephen Schilling was the fourth player to start at left guard. RIght guard Tony Moll, signed earlier in the month, made his season's first start. Off the edges, Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil and linebacker Von Miller were a terror.
The prevailing storyline instead was how Turner didn't even try.
He was asked first in the post-game presser why "just throw in the towel" at the end of regulation with his playcalling. He was later asked if he was "playing scared."
"You're not going to put a guy (Rivers) in a difficult position," Turner said. "We're trying not to expose him. You're trying to protect him ... We’re trying to manage a group of guys up front. Again, you saw a number of guys have trouble with one-on-one protections. We took a couple big sacks. We had pressure ... We’re in a unique position, and we’re trying to manage it the best we can."
He defended his decisions, one by one.
The locker room cleared out quickly after the loss, and yet, Turner doesn't seem to have lost it.
Players expressed disappointment with their record, not the plays called.
"He's been doing this for years," Tolbert said. "Decades. He's been doing this longer than most of us have been alive, so he knows what he's doing. We're not going to second guess him at all."
Said tight end Randy McMichael: "We've got to execute the play that is called. You've got to block the man in front of you. We just didn't convert when we needed to convert, and they did."
So, what now?
After last year's playoff drought, the Chargers likely needed a tournament berth for their coach to be in any semblance of comfortable standing within the organization. The postseason is now in grave danger, and thereby, so seems Turner's future with the team.
The public majority may have made its ruling all ready.
About an hour after every home game, Qualcomm Stadium's cleaning crew usually has one yeller within the group, screaming for a good 10 seconds: "Chaaaaargerrrrrrrs!"
This time, he briefly bellowed a succint chant that, right or wrong, could echo into the offseason: "Fire Norv! Fire Norv!"