title contenders have made a beeline in the opposite direction. Can their
seasons be saved?
THEY BEGAN the
season as trendy Super Bowl picks, and four weeks later there's still plenty of
buzz around the Chargers, Saints and Bears. But not for the reasons anyone
would have thought. Eight months after San Diego finished with the league's
best record (14--2), New Orleans advanced to the NFC title game and Chicago
played in the Super Bowl, the teams are last in their respective divisions,
with an aggregate record of 2--9. The Chargers have lost three in a row since
winning their opener under new coach Norv Turner, and on Sunday fans mocked
management by chanting the name of former coach Marty Schottenheimer. The 0--3
Saints have been outscored 103--38. The 1--3 Bears are already on their second
quarterback and could soon be warming up a third.
Instead of how
far will these teams go, the question has become, how much farther will they
fall? "This thing is getting away from us, and before you know it you'll
look back and say, 'What happened?'" fullback Lorenzo Neal said after his
Chargers squandered a 10-point second-half lead in a 30--16 loss to the
visiting Chiefs. "Bottom line, someone has got to step up and say, 'It has
to stop now.' If you continue saying, 'It's going to get better,' you're living
a pipe dream."
playoffs expanded to six teams per conference in 1990, only 18 of the 116 clubs
that started 1--3 advanced to the postseason. And if the Saints lose at home to
Carolina this Sunday, their likelihood of returning to the playoffs is all but
gone: Of 56 teams that have started 0--4 since 1990, only the 1992 Chargers
qualified for the postseason. Here's what's ailing each of the three teams.
They need a coach
who can lead in difficult times and get the most out of his playmakers, a
defensive coordinator who can dial up the right calls to pressure quarterbacks,
a secondary that can keep five-yard receptions from becoming 20-yard gains
because of poor tackling, and five offensive linemen who can work as a unit and
keep defenders off QB Philip Rivers.
Turner has done
nothing to dispel the image that he's in too deep as a head coach. Now with his
third team as the main guy, his combined record is 59-85-1. And despite his
reputation for being an elite play-caller, he raised eyebrows in the fourth
quarter on Sunday, when on first-and-goal from the five-yard line he called
four consecutive pass plays. (All were incomplete.) Did he forget about running
back LaDainian Tomlinson's league-record 28 rushing touchdowns in '06?
generated a league-high 6,264 yards last season largely on the strength of its
line play, but that unit has struggled this season. As a result, quarterback
Drew Brees has been under constant pressure and has already thrown seven
interceptions compared to 11 in all of 2006. Also, the holes haven't been there
for the running backs: The Saints are averaging 79.7 rushing yards per game
(29th in the NFL); Reggie Bush is gaining 2.8 yards per carry (and just 4.4 per
reception); and the power game took a huge hit when Deuce McAllister went down
for the season with a torn ACL.