SAN DIEGO – Norv Turner looked like he'd just come face-to-face with an evil spirit, and it was still 2 1/2 weeks before Halloween.
He gripped the podium with both hands. He sounded frazzled.
And why not? His San Diego Chargers had just coughed up a 24-0 halftime lead, allowing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to score five straight touchdowns — including two off turnovers by mistake-prone Philip Rivers — for a stunning 35-24 victory Monday night.
Turner was asked during his postgame news conference if the bye week was a good time for a coaching change.
"I don't think I'm going to respond to that," Turner said.
If Turner looked uncomfortable handling that query, imagine how he's going to feel if the Chargers can't break their bad habit of coming from ahead to lose.
The Chargers will remind anyone who will listen that they are indeed tied for first place in the AFC West with Denver at 3-3. But while Denver springs into its bye week with momentum, the Chargers get a weekend off to stew about consecutive embarrassing pratfalls on national TV.
On Monday night, the Chargers allowed Denver to tie the fourth-biggest comeback in NFL regular-season history. It was also the biggest comeback for Manning, who is a Super Bowl winner, a four-time league MVP and was idled all of last season after four neck surgeries.
A week earlier, on the nationally televised Sunday night game, the Chargers led by 10 points in the third quarter before letting former teammate Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints score the final 17 points for a 31-24 victory.
So in the last two second halves, San Diego has been outscored 52-7.
After Ryan Mathews lost a fumble at the Atlanta 4-yard that contributed to a 27-3 loss to the Falcons four weeks ago, Turner said he was going to limit the running back's "exposure" to certain situations.
Now he plans to limit Rivers' exposure to certain high-risk plays.
Despite continuing public outcry, Turner probably doesn't have to worry about the front office limiting his exposure to coaching.
Although the team wouldn't make president Dean Spanos available for comment, there are a number of factors working in Turner's favor, at least until season's end.
Foremost is that the Chargers are tied for the division lead, and that there are only two teams in the AFC with winning records. There's no viable candidate on the staff who could step in and replace Turner, who also is the de facto offensive coordinator given that he calls the plays. Spanos isn't prone to knee-jerk reactions, and he's not prone to exposing himself to eating salary. Turner's contract runs through 2013.
Spanos, after all, waited out last season's six-game losing streak, and then a blowout loss at Detroit that eliminated his club from playoff contention, before deciding not to fire Turner and general manager A.J. Smith.
If the Chargers miss the playoffs for the third straight year, that could change Spanos' mind on Turner, who previously has been fired by the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders. Smith might survive, in part because his contract runs through 2014.
Unhappy fans might start voting with their pocketbooks. The Chargers have had one game blacked out so far and there's the strong possibility their final five home games will be blacked out. More than 10,000 tickets must be sold to lift the blackout of their next home game, against Kansas City on Nov. 1, which is on the NFL Network. The NFL Network began showing Thursday night games in 2006 and has never had one blacked out locally.
After blowing the lead against the Saints, Turner railed against "conjecture" and "theories" that his team lacks a killer instinct. Then came the second-half collapse against the Broncos.
He twice told reporters they weren't listening to what he had to say at his weekly news conference, and then seemingly contradicted himself.
At one point he said the Chargers were going to keep an aggressive mindset, and later said he would call plays that have less risk, "and this may not be quite the same big-play team, but we're not going to turn the ball over."
Turner has said the Chargers can become an "outstanding" team. After the Denver loss he said they "are capable of becoming a very good team."
After Spanos fired Marty Schottenheimer because of his dysfunctional relationship with the heavy-handed Smith, the GM picked Turner as "the right coach at the right time."
Turner is 52-34 with the Chargers, but only 20-18 since their last playoff appearance, an embarrassing home loss to the New York Jets after the 2009 season, when the Chargers were 13-3 with the AFC's No. 2 seed.
Overall, Turner is 110-116-1 in three head coaching stops.
Turner mostly pinned the Denver loss on the career-high six turnovers by Philip Rivers, including his first career four-interception game.
But the Chargers' defense, restocked by Smith in the offseason, was a no-show in the second half. It allowed Manning to move the Broncos on drives of 85, 70 and 45 yards, all capped by TD passes from the star QB. The Broncos needed just eight plays to score after taking the second-half kickoff, never once needing to convert a third down. On the next drive, Manning converted a third-and-16 with a 25-yard completion.
Overall, the Chargers didn't sack Manning and hit him only once.
Rivers, though, was under siege most of the second half, when he was sacked four times. Three of his interceptions and one of his two fumbles came in the fourth quarter.
Rivers has thrown nine interceptions — tying him with three others for second-most in the NFL — and lost three fumbles this year, giving him 37 turnovers in his last 22 games. Last year he had a career-high 20 interceptions and lost five fumbles.
Rivers — who lobbied for Turner's return at the end of last season — has been sacked 18 times while San Diego's defense has just 10 sacks.
The Chargers blanched at the cost of keeping Vincent Jackson, and now they're paying the price for not having the 6-foot-5 receiver's big-play ability.
Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, signed after Jackson left for Tampa Bay as a free agent, haven't been big factors. Meachem has 12 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns while Royal has 13 catches for 98 yards and one TD.
Jackson leads Tampa Bay with 20 catches for 370 yards and four scores.
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