NBC's Sunday Night Football game between the 49ers and Eagles wasn't a very good game. But it didn't have to be. The real entertainment came in the NBC Studios when former Charger Rodney Harrison and Super Bowl-winning head coach Tony Dungy got rolling about the Chargers' sloppy 35-27 loss to the Raiders.
Harrison fired the opening salvo: “Undisciplined football. Blocked punts, fumbles, key penalty by Antonio Gates. Coach, when does Norv Turner have to assume some of the responsibility for this?”
That's when Dungy responded, and he didn't pull any punches.
"As a head coach, you’re the leader," Dungy replied. "And his players have made a ton of mistakes on the road, in big situations. Gates today, as great of a player as he is, you’re in field goal range to kick the winning field goal. You cannot hold in that situation. You can’t get punts blocked. You can’t fumble the ball at the 1-yard line going in, all of these things. San Diego is way, way too talented to have this happen. [The Raiders] fought, and they deserved this win. San Diego deserved this loss.”
Strong language, but certainly not off base. On Monday, Turner responded to Dungy's response.
"You make a comment, and you see a team from afar, and I understand his comment and I can relate to him," Turner said. "It’s probably how he felt when his players let Darren Sproles return a punt and a kick for a touchdown here on a Sunday night game or when Peyton threw six interceptions against us. I understand we have work to do, and it’s like any head coach would feel after a game like that."
Now, several people think this was Turner firing back at Dungy. I disagree. You have to take in to consideration the tone in which it was said. Turner was very measured in his words. He was not dripping with sarcasm; he wasn't visibly upset. It really came across as a normal answer, and one that made a pretty good analogy. And it probably means nothing is going to change.
Throughout his tenure as head coach in San Diego, Turner has never (at least to my knowledge) taken responsibility for a loss. Or a breakdown. Or silly mistakes. He's a believer in execution. He believes his plays and play calls will work, as long as the players execute them like they're supposed to. In his opinion, when an error happens, it's because of the guys wearing helmets, not the guys wearing headsets. At least, that's surely the way it comes across.
When discussing the punt-coverage breakdown in Oakland: "We're gonna get the right guys out there."
When discussing the general lack of coverage on return units: "We have some new guys playing."
OK, I get that. But shouldn't those new guys be prepared to do their jobs before they're allowed on the field? That responsibility falls on the coaching staff. The performance of the coaching staff is the responsibility of the head coach.
So far, the players have put the losses on themselves. Gates told me after the game that he has been in the league a long time and knows better than to have a holding penalty in the final minutes of the game that moves the offense out of field-goal range.
Antonio took responsibility for his mistake. It would be nice if the head coach did the same thing -- and would probably send a nice message to his players that they are truly all in this together.