Chargers' List of Mistakes Grows : NFL: Inefficient offense dooms Chargers to their sixth non-winning season in past seven.

Things are this bad for the Chargers. Sunday, in their 10-6 road loss to the Indianapolis Colts, they ran 17 plays on one drive, covered 106 yards of artificial turf and didn't score.

It was then that they gave new meaning to the term "Thirty-something."

"Thirty-something yards in penalties," Charger Coach Dan Henning said.

Thirty-something yards in penalties here, a botched field goal placement there, a missed field goal somewhere else, and a touchdown called back.

Another day, another loss.

The Chargers (4-8) have now clinched their sixth non-winning season in the past seven. In 1987, they were 8-7, but that wasn't altogether glorious. First, it was a strike season. Second, the Chargers lost the final six games.

Henning was asked Monday how long it will take to repair this damaged organization. He was told the people of San Diego want to know when the Chargers will be capable of a winning season.

"I don't know," he said. "Sometimes it happens more quickly than others. Other times it's a piece by piece building process."

His explanation for the Chargers' ongoing run of mediocrity was this: "There was a period of time between 1982 and 1985, and into 1986, where there was a void of personnel. The guts of your winning teams are generally made up of your fourth-, fifth- and sixth-year players. That's where we're short. When that deficit is made up, there will be a better chance to have a winning team."

In the meantime, there are all sorts of short-term problems for Henning to worry about. Joe Caravello, a blocking tight end who doubles as an H-back, strained his right knee Sunday and will miss the rest of the season.

"He has been playing very well," Henning said. "He has been one of our most consistent performers."

That puts another dent in the special teams, which is already without running back Marion Butts and tight end Andy Parker. It also leaves the Chargers searching for another tight end. Henning said he will look at a couple of candidates today.

Then there's the offense, which has scored 77 points in the past six games. Cornerback Gill Byrd was saying last week that he isn't satisfied with the defense because it continues to give up big drives in the final minutes. Sunday was no exception--the Colts went 87 yards in six plays and scored with less than two minutes remaining--but how much more can you ask of these guys? The offense spent more than 37 minutes on the field and never once managed a touchdown. All the while, the defense was holding Eric Dickerson to 30 yards on 17 carries.

Granted, the offense has been slowed by injuries at running back, H-back, tackle and even quarterback, but it has come to the point where Henning is expressing satisfaction over the fact that the offense hasn't turned the ball over at inopportune times. Not much of a consolation considering the dearth of points.

"I share the opinion with the people who know something about it, that the offense is doing some things well," Henning said. "Whether they're doing them as well as they can or maybe doing them better than they can, or where their potential lies, that's strictly a matter of opinion."

If assessing offensive production is written off as subjective, there are certain things that are cut and dried. Such as penalties. The Chargers had 13 of them Sunday for 97 yards.

"I think some of those penalties come when you're struggling against people who are strong, trying to get the job done," Henning said. "Penalties happen to people when they are not in position or they're being overpowered. In your anxiety to get the job done, you push from behind or that type of thing."

Anything else? Oh, the special teams unit is still having problems with bobbles and missed assignments.

Henning is trying to keep it all in perspective.

"To determine what the results and the production level is," he said, "you have to be analytical."

Certainly, there's no shortage of subject matter.

Charger Notes

Charger Coach Dan Henning said he is still uncertain whether running back Marion Butts (knee) will be available to play in Sunday's game against the New York Jets. . . . Henning said there is a possibility that the Chargers will let rookie quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver get some work before the season's end. . . . Defensive end Joe Phillips (ankle) played only two downs Sunday but is expected back against the Jets. . . . Henning called Art McNally, supervisor of officials for the National Football League, about the controversial call in the third quarter of Sunday's game. Line judge Ron Baynes and replay official Chuck Heberling ruled that Colt quarterback Tom Ramsey's pass to Eric Dickerson was incomplete, not a lateral and fumble. That cost the Chargers a touchdown, because they recovered the ball and scored. "Art McNally said he would review the film and make a determination as to what transpired and whether it was correct or incorrect," Henning said. "We didn't feel like there was any way we should have had anything but the football. Why it was called that way, I'm not sure at this time."

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