SAN DIEGO – At the last minute, a group of corporate sponsors stepped up to bail out the struggling San Diego Chargers and make sure that Thursday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs will be televised in Southern California.
Depending on the outcome, they might regret guaranteeing to cover a whopping 10,000 tickets that remained unsold 72 hours before kickoff.
Already prime-time flops twice this year, the Chargers (3-4) will try to get it right against the staggering Chiefs (1-6), arguably the NFL's worst team. Although the Chiefs have the same record as Jacksonville and Carolina, their issues run deeper than that.
Playing under the lights might merely illuminate what's wrong with these AFC West rivals, who play in the NFL's weakest division.
The Chiefs have lost four straight games and certainly won't be accused of using Stickum, seeing as how they've committed a staggering 25 turnovers, tops in the NFL.
San Diego has lost three straight and four of five to drop into a second-place tie with the hated Oakland Raiders, a game behind Denver. The bye week did nothing to help San Diego, which floundered in a 7-6 loss at Cleveland and hasn't scored a touchdown in its last six quarters.
Before that, of course, was the epic Monday night collapse at home against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, when the Chargers coughed up a 24-0 halftime lead and lost 35-24. Eight days earlier, the Chargers folded on the road against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints after leading by 10 in the third quarter.
Approaching the season's midpoint, the Chargers are still talking about trying to put together a complete game and getting on the same page.
Fan outrage against coach Norv Turner has never been hotter, and (hash)firenorv is all the rage on Twitter. More and more paying customers are starting to toss general manager A.J. Smith into the fray because his retooled roster hasn't played with the impact that was promised.
The way quarterback Philip Rivers sees it, there's a fine line between saving the season and having it spin out of control.
"We make two or three plays and we're sitting here 6-1 and talking about, 'Are the Chargers the best team in the AFC?' " said Rivers, who at the end of last season lobbied for team President Dean Spanos to retain Turner. "And you don't make those plays and you're talking about, 'Oh, what in the world is wrong?' "
In the dreary loss to the Browns, wide receiver Robert Meachem continued his struggles when he dropped a potential touchdown pass.
Before that, it was Rivers' six turnovers against the Broncos and penalties against the Saints.
Spanos doesn't seem inclined to fire Turner at midseason, but a loss to the Chiefs could put the Bolts' boss in an untenable situation, especially facing the prospect of having the final four home games blacked out locally because of fan apathy.
"There doesn't need to be dramatic changes other than going out and winning," Rivers said. "That's the dramatic change. Winning is definitely more dramatic than losing. As far as what it's going to take to go and win, it's not going to take anything dramatic. I wish that I didn't have to keep saying it, but it's very clear what's cost us these last three wins. But we're in the situation that we're in and we have to dig ourselves out."
The Bolts beat the Chiefs 37-20 at Kansas City on Sept. 30.
The Chiefs have thrown 13 interceptions and lost 12 fumbles.
Equally as startling is this: Kansas City is the first team since at least 1940 that has gone through its first seven games without holding a lead in regulation, according to STATS LLC. The Chiefs' only victory came when Ryan Succop kicked the winning field goal against the Saints in overtime.
"We definitely think about it," wide receiver Dexter McCluster said. "We definitely do want to see how things turn out if we do get a lead, and maybe we'll swing this program around if we get ahead. We won't be having to dig ourselves out of a hole.
"In this game you're going to face adversity," he added. "But at the end of the day, you just have to go out there and play football. If you worry about being embarrassed, you're not going to get any better."
The Chiefs lost three fumbles and had three interceptions in the loss to San Diego.
"It was kind of a bum-rush of bad things that happened. We've been on that side, too," said San Diego safety Eric Weddle.
"It's a point of emphasis, obviously," added Weddle, who had one interception in that game and saved a win against Kansas City last year with a last-minute interception of Matt Cassel. "When a guy has trouble holding onto the ball or you feel like you can get around the pocket and put pressure on the quarterback ... when the ball's in the air, we have just as good of an opportunity to get the ball as the wide receivers."
Coach Romeo Crennel said the Chiefs will have a chance if they "don't get stupid penalties," limit turnovers and "don't let guys run free in the secondary and catch touchdown passes."
Seems like a tall order.
"They work hard during the week, they practice hard, they're good people, they're good kids, and they want to do things the right way and they want to win," the coach said. "But things have happened during the course of the game that haven't allowed us to win, or haven't put us in the best position to win."
Cassel will start because Brady Quinn has not been cleared to practice due to a concussion. Cassel regains the starting job he lost after a dismal five-game stretch to start the season.
Dave Skretta in Kansas City contributed to this report.
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