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Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008 | Maybe the football gods were confused last weekend.

Maybe with Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox — a San Diego State safety from the 1975 and 1976 seasons who was back home while his team worked out at SDSU in preparation for the season opener against the Chargers — the miracle moment that San Diego State needed to win Saturday at Notre Dame was instead granted to Fox and his Panthers on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

As time expired, Carolina tight end Dante Rosario caught a 14-yard pass for the game-winning touchdown from quarterback Jake Delhomme.

That makes two football games played at San Diego’s Mission Valley stadium this year, both of which were decided on the final play. San Diego State opened up its season Aug. 30 at home when Cal Poly won 29-27 on a field goal as time expired.

But plenty of yardage separates the Chargers’ state of mind after Sunday’s loss compared to last year’s 1-3 start.

About as much distance separated Delhomme’s desperation pass to Rosario and the Chargers’ two 80-yard touchdown drives in the second and fourth quarters. Hopefully, there will be less panic to put up with from fans posting on message boards and others calling in to sports talk radio.

A year ago, the Chargers admitted they were bewildered by their slow start until they turned things around with six straight regular-season victories to claim a second straight AFC West title and two more playoff wins before an injury-hampered loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

They weren’t talking that way Monday at Chargers Park.

“There isn’t anything that will present itself that we haven’t seen,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “That’s huge — the unknown and how you’re going to respond. There isn’t anything we haven’t seen, the ups and downs, in the last four years that I’ve been here. We can certainly handle this. This pales in comparison to what we’ve dealt with.”

Last year Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson said head coach Norv Turner told the team during the slow start that they could sulk or they could get back to work. History shows us they kept working.

If there was any doubt that Turner had the right locker room message for his players then, there is none now. Tomlinson was disappointed on Monday, but he didn’t look alarmed.

LT said the Chargers know where they could have played better. To win such a game while not playing well would have stung like a mosquito bite. To lose and play that way stings like a snake bite.

“This league is so close in talent that any misstep on a certain play can cost you,” Tomlinson said. “That’s the one thing that we had talked about was making sure we take advantage of the opportunities when they’re there and making the plays that present themselves because this league is so good. We saw that yesterday. In fact, we saw it all last year. That was the difference between when we started out 1-3 not making them plays. Then when we got on a run some of those plays just went our way.”

Or maybe you didn’t notice that the Indianapolis Colts are also off to a 0-1 start after losing at home to the Chicago Bears.

The one play that didn’t go the Chargers’ way Sunday was a pass safety Eric Weddle nearly tipped away. Turner said if the linebackers were a step deeper in their coverage they might have knocked the pass away, too.

At Notre Dame, they always say a leprechaun is lurking about, sneaking in a magical hand to make a big play go the Irish’s way.

Maybe a leprechaun forced SDSU running back Brandon Sullivan to fumble at the goal line on a play that otherwise would have given the Aztecs a seemingly insurmountable 20-7 lead.

Or maybe a leprechaun convinced the football gods, who have long owed San Diego State some breaks, that the Aztec who needed a miracle was John Fox, and that he could be found on Sunday afternoon at his old Mission Valley stadium haunt.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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