The Chargers coughed up a late lead in falling to the Carolina Panthers, 26-24.
With a rocking home crowd pleading otherwise, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme threw the game-winner with no time remaining.
It stunned the fans and it stunned the Chargers.
HC Norv Turner
"Had that play ended in our favor, my message to the team is the same," Turner said. "Watching the tape and watching the game live, like every other team in this league, we have to get better."
So often a win sweeps away the mistakes to the naked eye -- it'll cure almost everything.
But coaches know better. That's why even if Delhomme's pass to Dante Rosario had instead found the ground, Turner had a long list of things to improve on.
Maybe an ugly win would have let some skip over a shaky run defense, a missing pass rush, some questionable run-blocking and the team's inability to get its wide receivers involved.
Regardless of that lengthy list, the Chargers can't dwell. Not with a trip to Denver on the horizon.
One thing about Sunday's loss was it didn't come against a conference or division foe.
If the Chargers lose Sunday, they can't say the same thing. Instead they would be 0-2 and awaiting the resurgent Jets.
So a win or a loss in the opener? Either way the Chargers know they have to get better -- quickly.
--Running back LaDainian Tomlinson wasn't surprised the Chargers got the Panthers' best shot. "Teams are going to play us tough," he said. "They always know they have to come in here and play and we have to go out with the same approach."
--OLB Shawne Merriman didn't want to hear how the Chargers' defense bent but didn't really break for most the game, making the Panthers settle for three field goals. He said all that will be remembered will be the last stop that never came as the Panthers pulled off the upset.
"You can make all the great plays and stops in the world but when you can't make a stop that matters, that is when the game is decided."
Merriman, playing with two torn knee ligaments, had two tackles.
--TE Antonio Gates is going to battle his cranky toe all season. "The judgment part of it is what makes it tough: whether I'm helping the team or hurting the team," said Gates, who was restricted by the toe injury but caught four passes for 61 yards and a score.
--The Chargers matched the number of home losses of last season in one game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Craig Davis, the team's top pick last year, was a healthy inactive for the opener.
--FB Michael Tolbert, an undrafted rookie who made the team out of camp, showed well in his debut. He delivered some solid blocks and gained six yards on three carries.
--LT Marcus McNeill is expected to return to practice this week after missing the preseason and opener with a spinal injury.
--CB Antoine Cason, this year's first-round selection, played well. He had six tackles -- one for a loss -- with a pass defensed and a forced fumble.
REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Philip Rivers had one of his better days and that was in the face of a pretty consistent pass rush that limited his time to get the ball to the outside. Rivers threw for three touchdowns and compiled a nifty 125.1 passer rating in one of his better games as a starter. Antonio Gates scored a touchdown, but he is having trouble moving with his sore toe. The wideouts had but four catches total, but two of them -- to Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson -- went for touchdowns.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- LaDainian Tomlinson came on late and ended up just three yards shy of hitting the century mark. But there was some tough going early in the game where he was often met before he could reach the line of scrimmage. The starting five up front featured three new faces from last year's opener -- and it showed.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- Carolina QB Jake Delhomme didn't have huge numbers -- 247 yards with one touchdown. But he didn't turn the ball over and was sensational on the last drive that resulted in the win. The pass rush was a no-show -- the only sack came when Delhomme turned and ran into Igor Olshansky. Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo were very average. Somehow, someone has to apply pressure or knock down the last pass which gave the Panthers a win.
RUSH DEFENSE: C- -- Of all the defensive blemishes, this one is alarming and the offensive line of Carolina had its way with the Chargers -- especially up the middle. Maybe DT Jamal Williams needed to knock off the rust from not playing in the preseason or maybe the team misses ILB Stephen Cooper (suspended) that much. Whatever, the run defense gave up nearly five yards per carry -- that's way too much.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- P Mike Scifres had a long of 63 but it will be his short one that went 32 yards and led to a fourth-quarter Carolina field goal that will be remembered. The return game was decent with Darren Sproles showing longs of 41 (kickoff) and 12 (punt). Chargers coverages were on the mark.
COACHING: D -- You gotta win at home in the opener and the Chargers failed to do so. Looking ahead to their game in Denver? Hard to say. But defensively, the Chargers needed to make some kind of an adjustment to pester Delhomme and it never happened. Offensively, the Chargers needed to stretch the field more by getting their wideouts more involved -- something that finally happened late. Among coach Norv Turner's goals was going undefeated at home -- scratch that one from the list.