SAN DIEGO — John Elway is a great quarterback, but he didn't do all the things he did Sunday without outside help.
The Chargers' defense was so inept in their 31-17 loss to the Denver Broncos at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium that defensive coordinator Ron Lynn couldn't disguise his disgust.
"It was totally dismal," Lynn said. "It was a team performance, and I include myself in that. I obviously didn't call a very good game, or we didn't have a very good plan, or we didn't execute. It may have been a combination of all three.
"In some cases, we didn't make the play. In other cases, we weren't where we could make the play.
"I'm not denigrating Elway's efforts. You have to give him credit. He's one of the finest athletes in the National Football League. But we've got to execute better than we did today--the last two weeks, for that matter.
"I don't know whether we've regressed, but we certainly haven't been playing like we did earlier. If we don't do well, we've fallen backward. If we do, we put the cynics at rest. Obviously, we haven't been doing the latter."
Statistics tell why Lynn was so upset. In the Chargers' first six non-strike games, they held their opponents to 19.3 points a game. In their last two, they have given up 34 and 31.
Lynn was especially critical of the Charger secondary, which Elway burned for 347 yards and three touchdowns. The Broncos gained 522 yards, all told.
"At times we were good," Lynn said of the secondary. "At times we were also lousy."
Elway was much kinder, saying, "What we did was due more to our execution than their secondary. I had time, and they were catching the ball, so I don't know if you could point fingers at them."
But the Chargers' defensive backs didn't argue with Lynn--not even free safety Vencie Glenn, who had begun what turned out to be a bittersweet day by returning Elway's only interception a league-record 103 yards for a touchdown.
"I don't feel too good," Glenn said. "Not even after that long run. I just think we have some soul-searching to do. We didn't make the plays all day long. Mess up like that, and you're going to pay the price.
"Elway is outstanding, and he has outstanding receivers. But if you're playing as badly as we are, you can make anybody look good. They just flat beat us."
The Broncos converted 12 of 15 third-down plays into first downs--a remarkable 80%--and Glenn said the Chargers had to shoulder part of the blame.
"We wanted to force him into third-and-long situations," Glenn said. "We did it time after time, but we kept letting him get away. There's no excuse for that."
Particularly galling to the San Diego defenders was Elway's 29-yard scramble on third and 10 early in the fourth quarter. The Chargers had just scored a touchdown that gave them at least faint hopes of pulling the game out, and Elway's run kept alive a drive that consumed seven of the remaining 13 minutes.
"That really hurt," said cornerback Gill Byrd. "Elway is as good as he wants to be. There's no limit to the things he can do.
"We made a lot of mistakes. They weren't enough to warrant all he did, but we still made too many. We've got to get them out of our system."
Danny Walters, who plays the nickel back in passing situations, said: "With Elway and those three quick receivers, Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and Ricky Nattiel, they've got some offensive weapons that make it tough on any defense. Still, we have to execute better than we did today."
For cornerback Elvis Patterson, Sunday's experience was an unpleasant turnaround from Super Bowl XXI, in which he helped the New York Giants belt the Broncos, 39-20, in Pasadena last January.
"We put a lot of pressure on Elway that day," Patterson said. "Our pass rushers were in his face on every play. We just didn't do the job today, and now we're in a situation where it's do or die for us. Seattle and Denver are right on our tails, so we've got our backs to the wall.
"I'm really disappointed in the way I played. Jackson and Nattiel both beat me on bombs that were underthrown. Maybe some days I would have gotten them. Today I didn't.
"What can you say after a game like this? Maybe you should just take Elway and put a cape on him."