Most of the Chargers kept their helmets on as they trudged off the field after Sunday's 31-14 loss to Denver.
It seemed a wise choice, considering all the hecklers lined along the guard rail 20 feet above the tunnel leading to the dressing room. None of the players wanted a beer poured on his head. The verbal abuse--mostly unprintable--was bad enough.
There wasn't much to console the players when they reported to the stadium for meetings and treatment Monday. Certainly the numbers were unkind, starting with a 1-5 record.
Coach Don Coryell sifted through the debris and came up with something he chose to view as positive.
Departing from a month-old habit of predicting better things for Dan Fouts, Coryell said he was encouraged by his quarterback's showing against Denver.
"He had his best game since Miami," Coryell said. "He threw better. He had a couple of perfect shots to Wes Chandler and Gary Anderson. Dan played with poise like his old self. I thought it was important to leave him out there and end the game on a good note. We had to do something right."
The Chargers scored a touchdown with 1:29 left, the first time since the season opener that they had made a touchdown in the second half. In that sense, they did something right, as Coryell desired.
But not much happened with Air Coryell between touchdowns on the game's first and last series. The Chargers had the ball only 21 minutes, partly because they converted only three of 10 chances on third down, contrasted with Denver's 60% efficiency.
Fouts, despite completing 26 of 40 passes for 352 yards, barely advanced in the statistical ratings. He is 23rd among the league's quarterbacks, up one place from a week ago.
The Charger defense, however, isn't advancing, not even incrementally.
The latest statistics revealed that the defense has sunk to its accustomed spot--28th in the league (28th against the pass and 17th against the run). There are sunken Spanish galleons that have been on the bottom longer, but this defense doesn't have too many other rivals.
This is the same defense that has been redesigned and replenished, supposedly to the point of being respectable. But it still produces the same results, and gives little indication of being able to carry Air Coryell through lean times.
Safety Gill Byrd, whose four interceptions place him in a tie for second among National Football League backs, asserted that the San Diego defense is better than it has been in his four years.
"Our personnel is improved, but we've been beating ourselves," Byrd said. "Last year, we were physically outmanned, but that's not the problem now.
"We're playing more aggressively, but there is no margin for error (in the new style). We're going after people, but we're making errors, and they just don't go hand in hand."
Stretching for an explanation of the team's descent, Byrd said that perhaps players should spend more time in film study so they'll be better prepared.
He also called for more intensity in the second half.
"You'd think things would get better, because we have talent here," he said. "We have showed we can compete with anybody for a half, but then we seem to slack off. We've got to strap it on in the second half and get it going."
Linebacker Gary Plummer, who ranks second on the team in tackles, has been through a longer losing streak than San Diego's present five-game drought. As a member of the Oakland Invaders of the United States Football League, Plummer once endured nine straight defeats.
The Invaders came out of it and won seven in a row after their coach was fired, but Plummer said he didn't believe the change precipitated the winning streak, and he surely doesn't want a coaching change here.
"It was pretty dismal," Plummer said. "It was frustrating to be the worst team in the USFL when we knew we were not really an 0-9 team.
"I don't think this is a 1-5 team, either, but the most frustrating aspect is there's just no one thing you can point to. I mean, we're here from 8:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon for meetings and practice. You can only meet for so long."
Plummer is playing under the same defensive coordinator, Ron Lynn, for whom he worked in Oakland.
"He's consistent, never up or down, a stable force, and that's helpful," Plummer said.
"Another positive aspect of all this is that there isn't a lot of bickering or finger-pointing. Those things happened in Oakland. After the offense would run three plays and punt, you'd hear players bad-mouthing the offense. The guys here are a little more professional."
Tight end Eric Sievers has developed a sense of professionalism over six years, and he's able to view the current situation with a certain detachment that allows for sanity.
Sievers, sipping a cup of black coffee, said he could repeat all the cliches that others have been offering. He began with the one about the danger of players getting down on themselves.
"I've never been on a team that's lost five in a row," he said. "The only losing team I played on was in 10th grade, so I really don't know much about how you cope with losing. I think that applies to most of the guys in this room--not many come from a losing background. You don't get to this level by playing for losers."
Sievers, who has been recuperating from a knee injury, made his first catch of the season in Sunday's game.
"I always try to look at myself and ask if I've been a plus or a minus," he said. "I don't think I've been a minus."
Sievers said he appreciates that the coaching staff hasn't altered its personality and doesn't believe the Chargers would be helped by a display of temper from the staff.
"Having guys screaming and throwing chairs would only make things worse," he said. "That would just lead to aggravation and dissension. You can't perform under those conditions.
Defensive backs Ken Taylor and Vencie Glenn were praised by Coach Dan Coryell for their play against Denver. . . . Defensive lineman Leslie O'Neal, bothered by a hand injury, also played well, Coryell said. . . . Linebacker Thomas Benson required two pain-killing shots to get through the game after suffering a hip pointer. Benson probably won't practice this week but should be able to play Sunday at Kansas City. . . . Center Don Macek, bothered by back spasms, is questionable for this week's game. He has been replaced by Jim Leonard. . . . Linebacker Derrie Nelson also is questionable because of a hamstring injury.