Protecting Rivers paramount, say beat up offensive linemen

SAN DIEGO (AP) A number of offensive linemen for the San Diego Chargers were forced out of Sunday's ugly 31-14 loss at Minnesota.

Philip Rivers was, too, and that's not acceptable to the guys who are supposed to keep him upright.

''We've got to do a better job protecting Philip,'' said center Chris Watt, who started and was in for 11 plays before being forced out with a groin injury suffered a week earlier. ''He got hit way too many times yesterday and over the course of these last couple of games. If he's getting hit like this the whole season, he's not going to hold up well.''

The Chargers (1-2) dropped to last place in the AFC West.

Rivers was hit so hard in the third quarter that coach Mike McCoy called timeout so the franchise QB could get his wind back. Rivers eventually was pulled for his own good. He committed two turnovers and was sacked four times for the second straight week.

The Chargers ended the game with no spare offensive linemen and two who were playing hurt; right guard D.J. Fluker with a badly sprained left ankle from two weeks earlier and guard-tackle Chris Hairston, also with an ankle injury.

Joining Watt on the sideline were left guard Orlando Franklin (right ankle) and left tackle King Dunlap (concussion).

Despite the mayhem, the linemen aren't feeling sorry for themselves.

''It is tough but we're all paid in this locker room,'' Watt said Monday. ''We all have confidence in each other and the coaches have confidence in the guys they put out there so we've got to get the job done.''

Rivers had the wind knocked out of him when he took a hard hit to his midsection by Anthony Barr in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, a pass from Rivers was tipped by receiver Stevie Johnson and intercepted by Chad Greenway, who returned it 91 yards for a touchdown.

Trevor Robinson, who replaced Watt, said offensive linemen have to be ready for upheaval.

''We prepare for that,'' he said. ''The nature of this business is that when you're called upon to do your job, it doesn't matter if you started the game or not. You are in a position to perform and help the team and that's really all that matters.''

Robinson said he is ready to lead the line in next Sunday's home game against Cleveland, if needed.

''I think I'm confident in myself and confident in everybody. Whoever those five are, I don't know who it's going to be, I'm confident we can give ourselves a chance to win,'' he said.

The Chargers are a mess in many areas. Rivers has been sacked 10 times in three games. San Diego's defense has gone two straight games without a sack, and its only sack of the season was by rookie Kyle Emanuel in the opening win against Detroit. The Chargers' eight turnovers are tied for the league lead, and they continue to commit critical penalties.

''It doesn't matter how many points you lose by, how you lose the game. We've got a lot to clean up today.'' coach Mike McCoy said.

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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