SAN DIEGO (AP) -Oversold or underachievers?
Which best describes the San Diego Chargers, the most disappointing team in the AFC?
With the Chargers having spent much of the season in a stupor, the argument can be made both ways.
About the only thing the Chargers have going for them heading down the stretch is that they play in the anemic AFC West, where they now share the lead with the Denver Broncos at an unsightly 5-5.
That's not what anyone expected from a team that entered the season considered part of the AFC's Big Three, along with defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis and New England.
The Chargers look nothing like the bunch that went an NFL-best 14-2 last year under Marty Schottenheimer, leading the league with 492 points and 61 sacks.
That season was defined by LaDainian Tomlinson's record-setting romp en route to being voted league MVP.
This one might be best summed up by All-Pro outside linebacker Shawne Merriman getting knocked on his rear end by 5-foot-7 bowling ball Maurice Jones-Drew in their latest loss.
Deano'' doesn't stop taking on water.
Taking the nautical theme a step further, All-Pro fullback Lorenzo Neal on Monday raised this warning:
``Right now it's like a ship heading toward an iceberg. We've got to get this rudder fixed. We have everything going our way. We've just got to fix this rudder and steer away from this iceberg and get headed into clear water so we can open up again.''
The Chargers' spin is that coach Norv Turner represents continuity, simply because he installed the current offensive scheme back in 2001 when he was the coordinator and Tomlinson was a rookie.
If continuity was so important, why not keep the guy they had? Schottenheimer's playoff flops were legendary and he and general manager A.J. Smith couldn't stand each other. But at least Schottenheimer could get his teams into January during a career in which he won 200 regular-season games.
Now he's golfing and spending time with his grandchildren while cashing some $4 million worth of checks signed by team president Dean Spanos, who suddenly fired the coach in February.
Had Spanos fired Schottenheimer immediately after the mind-numbing playoff collapse against New England, he could have promoted defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Instead, Phillips was hired as Dallas' head coach and has the Cowboys off to a 9-1 start.
Schottenheimer's final indiscretion apparently was insisting on hiring his brother, Kurt, to replace Phillips. Spanos, the owner's son, who in turn employs his two sons, said no, and the Martyball era was over.
As fans have watched San Diego's defense lose its aggressiveness - with the exception of Antonio Cromartie's league-high six interceptions - they're wondering if things would be worse under Kurt Schottenheimer than they are under Ted Cottrell.
Turner has had phenomenal success as an offensive coordinator, most notably with the Cowboys in the early 1990s.
While skippering the Chargers, though, Turner's play-calling has been predictable and unimaginative. Under Turner's tutelage, quarterback Philip Rivers was supposed to improve exponentially from his Pro Bowl performance of 2006, not look dismal and lead the NFL with 17 turnovers.
Schottenheimer had a presence. Turner has ... a 63-87-1 record as an NFL head coach.
Then again, maybe it's not Norv's fault. He's being asked to do something he hasn't been able to do before: win consistently.
Coming into the season, the Chargers were lauded as perhaps the most-talented team in the league, at least until the Patriots raced off on their quest to go 19-0.
Smith, a phenomenal talent evaluator, was so content with his roster that he didn't do anything in free agency beyond re-signing left guard Kris Dielman and cutting ties with some veterans. Among the departed was ``Downfield'' Donnie Edwards, an inside linebacker criticized in some circles for making too many tackles beyond the line of scrimmage.
At least he made tackles.
The Patriots, by comparison, fell five points short of going to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in six seasons, then aggressively loaded up with Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth, Wes Welker and Adalius Thomas.
Nine months after beating the Chargers 24-21 in the playoffs, the Patriots schooled them 38-14 on Sept. 16.
Time is running out for the Chargers, who keep waiting for their offense to show up and would be 4-6 if not for that lucky win over the Colts.
San Diego routed Denver 41-3 in early October. The rematch is Christmas Eve in San Diego. The Chargers better hope another Colorado team doesn't deny a San Diego squad entry to the playoffs, like the Rockies did to the Padres.
There are so many questions and too few answers for a team with 11 Pro Bowlers, five of whom also made the elite All-Pro team in 2006.
Or can the answers be found between the lines?
Tomlinson, who like Smith has an 0-2 playoff record, is the franchise's most brutally honest employee. Asked Monday about one of the Chargers' many struggles, he said: ``You're asking the wrong person. Like I tell you every week, I'm a player on this team, and my job is to play. When the play is called, perform the play. I think you guys need to ask Norv that question.''
Merriman questioned some teammates' commitment following a 24-17 loss at Jacksonville, then backed off after watching the film. He's not backpedaling about his desire to be more involved in the defense.
``We have to have the ability to change during the game and make adjustments,'' he said.
Why has that been lacking?
``That's a good question,'' he said. ``That's still up in the air. I don't call the plays, I don't recommend them. I just run them.''
Oversold or underachievers? Both?
Hold on - there's an iceberg dead ahead.

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