SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Chargers found new ways to blunder their way to yet another loss.
It was bad enough that new kicker Kris Brown smacked a 50-yard field goal try off the right upright with 23 seconds left, allowing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to escape with a 23-20 win against the Chargers on Sunday.
What really made this a stinker for Norv Turner’s team were the four turnovers in just over than 13 minutes in the first half, leading to 10 Patriots points and more head-shaking by miffed Chargers fans.
Two of the giveaways were mystifying brain cramps.
Rookie Richard Goodman made his first NFL reception, a 25-yarder, then inexplicably left the ball on the ground even though he hadn’t been touched by a defender. New England safety James Sanders alertly picked up the ball.
On the next drive, Philip Rivers stepped up in the pocket, turned and threw a backward pass that glanced off fullback Jacob Hester’s hands. Hester didn’t go after it, apparently not realizing it was a lateral. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich did, returning it 63 yards before Rivers dragged him down at the 8.
So while New England (5-1) pulled into a tie with the idle New York Jets atop the AFC East, the four-time defending AFC West champion Chargers tumbled to 2-5, their worst start in four seasons under Turner. They’re tied for last with Denver, 2½ games behind the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Until we take care of the football, there will be a lot of conversation about we’re not very good, we’re not very talented and we’re not very well coached,” Turner said. “We start taking care of the football, I think we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”
Brady was asked about the Patriots’ penchant for not making mistakes. The Chargers might learn something from his answer.
“Coaching. From the time we walk in the door here, he always talks about eliminating bad football,” Brady said, referring to head coach Bill Belichick. “And that’s stuff that Foxborough High School can complete. Wide-open throws, snap-count violations or lining up in the wrong position or dropping the ball when you haven’t been touched. Those type of things, the coach is pretty tough on us.”
The Chargers, who trailed 20-3 heading into the fourth quarter, were in position to at least send it into overtime. They held New England to just 179 yards of offense.
Leading by 3 with two minutes left, New England gambled on fourth-and-1 from its 49, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis was stuffed for a 1-yard loss by Antwan Applewhite. Belichick had challenged the spot of the previous play and lost, costing him his final timeout. San Diego then moved to the 27.
Brown lined up to try a 45-yarder, but guard Louis Vasquez was whistled for a false start. Moved back 5 yards, Brown’s attempt was long enough but hit the right upright. Brown was signed last week because Nate Kaeding has an injured groin.
“It just stayed down that hash mark. It just hit the upright,” Brown said. “It’s frustrating because I felt like I hit it pretty good. It just didn’t go in.”
Stephen Gostkowski kicked field goals of 40, 35 and 35 yards for New England.
San Diego rallied for two touchdowns in the final 7:21. The Chargers got a 4-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates, and, after a successful onside kick, a 1-yard run by Mike Tolbert.
The Chargers, though, had already hurt themselves with the turnovers.
Goodman said he thought he was touched.
“I’ll be the first one to admit that it was my fault,” Goodman said. “I’ve got to learn from my mistakes. After making that catch, I’ve got to give it back to the ref.”
Hester said it “never even crossed my mind it was a backwards pass. Once I realized it and found the ball and tried to get it, it was too late. In that situation, you’ve got to make sure. Even if you think it’s a forward pass, you’ve just got to go get it.”
Brady was sacked on consecutive plays and New England settled for Gostkowski’s 40-yard field goal that made it 10-3.
New England’s first score, a 1-yard TD pass from Brady to tight end Rob Gronkowski, was set up when Chargers tight end Kris Wilson fumbled after an 11-yard catch, with linebacker Jerod Mayo recovering at the Chargers 22.
New England opened the second half by moving 79 yards on a 17-play drive that consumed more than 8½ minutes. Green-Ellis scored on a 1-yard run to make it 20-3.
Brown made field goals of 32 and 28 yards.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.