CLEVELAND – True to their nickname, the San Diego Chargers have struck quickly and efficiently this season.
Unfortunately, the Bolts have zapped themselves.
Done in by too many turnovers, the Chargers blew second-half leads in their last two games, consecutive losses to New Orleans and Denver. The come-from-ahead defeats were made worse because they came on national TV with the whole league watching San Diego self-destruct. So instead of being 5-1 and leading the AFC West by two games, San Diego enters Sunday's game against Cleveland looking to snap its slide.
"We just want to win," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "The last two games we've had two first halves about as good as you can have and then we've had two second halves about as bad as you can have, so I think it's just a matter of collectively trying to put a complete game together. We need to get into a rhythm like we've been in these two games, like we know we can and just be more consistent."
The Chargers (3-3) are coming off their bye week, which provided a chance for the players to regroup, for embattled coach Norv Turner to endure more heated scrutiny, and for the NFL to launch an investigation into whether any San Diego players have been using Stickum, a banned adhesive substance, during the season.
Turner, it seems, is almost always in a sticky situation.
He's an impressive 52-34 in five-plus seasons with the Chargers, but only 20-18 since the team's last playoff appearance in 2009. The recent back-to-back losses have only intensified the anger of some San Diego fans who believe a coaching change is in order.
In San Diego's previous game, the Chargers built a 24-0 lead at halftime before Peyton Manning, helped by some turnovers — Rivers threw four interceptions — by the Chargers, rallied the Broncos to a 35-24 win, tying the fourth largest comeback in regular-season history. That meltdown came a week after the Chargers blew a 10-point lead in the third quarter and lost on the road to the Saints, who had been winless.
The Chargers have been outscored 52-7 in the second halves of their past two games, an imbalance that has some fans in laid-back San Diego boiling mad.
"It's understandable," Rivers said of the fans' frustration. "There's a lot of excitement around every game. The last two games we played were hyped a little more. If you look league-wide, I'll bet the New York Giants fans were disgruntled most of last season. And they were the happiest fans in the world when February came around. They (the Giants) knew how to keep going and fight through it and they did it. They've done that twice now and won two Super Bowls. We know what it takes and we have to keep believing.
"Then we'll look up on the 31st or whatever the last day is and see where we stand."
Right now, the Browns stand dead last.
The league's only 1-6 team, Cleveland is struggling through another one of those seasons that ends with a coach getting fired, a front office overhauled and endless conjecture about what they should do in April's draft. The Browns, though, have shown a feistiness all season and have been one or two plays away from victory.
They're close and they're getting better. All that's left is for them to start winning.
"We're in games," said rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who has thrown two touchdown passes in each of his past three games. "We're not getting blown out. We're not a gimme. No team is coming in and we're going to lay down and give them one. We're going to battle. We're going to play hard. We're going to play hard for 60 minutes.
"That's what we've shown. That's going to help us down the road as we keep maturing and keep getting better as a football team."
If not for a huge drop by rookie Josh Gordon last week, the Browns may have won at Indianapolis. Instead, a 17-13 loss — their 11th straight on the road — signaled the start of Jimmy Haslam's era as Cleveland's owner. Haslam reacted emotionally to Gordon's error as TV cameras caught him swiping the air with his hand as the wide receiver let Weeden's perfectly thrown pass slip through his fingers at the goal line.
While the owner showed his frustration, Weeden stayed composed despite Gordon's miscue. It was another sign of Weeden's rising maturity. Since throwing four interceptions in his debut against Philadelphia, Weeden has steadily improved and arguably outplayed No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck last week.
He's making big plays, deep throws and growing into a leader.
"I see our quarterback improving each week," said Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who has 16 rookies on his roster. "I can't wait to see how far he can take this thing as we move through the back half of our season. Now, I would say this, quarterbacks will eventually be evaluated by wins. I've got this little checklist of things I want to see him do better and that also includes getting us wins."
Shurmur could use a few — quickly.
At just 5-18 in two seasons, Shurmur's future with the Browns is uncertain, at best. Haslam didn't look pleased last week when the coach chose to punt on fourth-and-1 with just over six minutes left last week. Haslam paid $1.05 billion for Cleveland's franchise, and one of his first offseason moves could be to change coaches, unless Shurmur strings some wins together.
With upcoming home games against San Diego and Baltimore before their bye, the Browns have a chance to turn things around.
It can be done in two weeks.
Just ask the Chargers.
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