Close Not Enough for Chargers, 10-6 : San Diego: Coaches can't figure it out as Colts win on touchdown pass with 1:54 left.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The reviews aren't even mixed for the Chargers anymore. They are a bad team.

They have lost twice as many games as they have won, including a 10-6 torture test to the Colts in the Hoosier Dome Sunday.

But at least the Chargers still know how to mix their metaphorical sports cliches with the best of them.

"We've just got to pick our pants up and go back out and play," said cornerback Elvis Patterson, moments after Indianapolis wide receiver Bill Brooks had undressed him on a crossing pattern for the 25-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with 1:54 remaining. That score dropped the Chargers to 4-8 and kept the Colts' playoff hopes alive at 6-6.

Patterson admitted Brooks was his responsibility in man-to-man coverage. And Charger defensive coordinator Ron Lynn admitted he wasn't sure why an opponent had put together a long drive late in the final period to beat the Chargers for the second consecutive week.

"I wish I knew," Lynn said. "It would be one thing if this was the only time this has happened."

Neither Patterson, Lynn nor anyone else associated with the Chargers could explain why this team has suffered its last six defeats by six, one, seven, three, three and four points.

But despite Patterson's mistake Sunday and Lynn's uncertainty about his unit's fourth-period failings, the Chargers' demise, the rumors of which are not greatly exaggerated, is not the fault of the defense.

The numbers, please:

--The Charger defense has allowed 11 touchdowns in the last 10 games.

--The Charger defense hasn't allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points since Week Two.

--The Charger defense limited four-time NFL rushing champion Eric Dickerson to 30 yards in 17 carries. It was Dickerson's lowest rushing total this year. And in his last four games against the Chargers, Dickerson has failed to score.

--The Charger offensive line committed six holding penalties, including three on one particularly ghastly fourth-period drive that ended with a botched 24-yard field goal attempt when holder David Archer mishandled a snap from center Mark Walczak.

--The Charger offense has scored six touchdowns in the last six games. Gifted wide receiver Anthony Miller has produced five of those.

But it was Miller who, according to the officials, committed an offensive pass interference penalty in the fourth period that nullified an eight-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jim McMahon to running back Darrin Nelson.

"It was a wrong call," Miller said. "They said it was an illegal pick. It wasn't. The guy (the official) just didn't have anything better to do than throw a flag."

Nelson's touchdown and the extra point would have given the Chargers a 10-3 lead. Instead they had to settle for a three-point edge on a 38-yard field goal by Chris Bahr.

The Colts answered with an 87-yard, six-play drive that took less than two minutes.

By then, Henning had seen enough. "I'm not sure that if we played all day out there, we'd have won that game," he said.

In short, Henning was unhappy with referee Gordon McCarter and his seven-man crew.

Henning was especially incensed with the failure of line judge Ron Baynes and replay official Chuck Heberling to determine that Tom Ramsey's incomplete third-period swing pass to Dickerson was a lateral.

The Chargers would have recovered and scored on the play. But the whistle blew the play dead. Review of the replay upheld Baynes.

One play later Henning wasted a timeout to ask for a "clarification" of Baynes' ruling, which he said he never got. "I wanted to clear up a cloud," Henning said.

Henning used up his second timeout seven minutes later to decide whether to kick or go for a first down on fourth-and-one at the Colt 21. They got the first down and lost it on a false start by guard Broderick Thompson. Bahr then missed a 44-yarder.

McMahon then had only one timeout left when the Chargers took over at their own 31 with 1:49 remaining.

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