Chargers Get Well Against Broncos, 30-10
There were a lot of wounds that needed binding up, and the Chargers took care of them with the efficiency of a team of surgeons from Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Bloodied and humiliated by Monday night’s 34-21 loss to the Raiders, the Chargers patched up their limbs and psyches and defeated the Denver Broncos, 30-10, here Sunday before 57,312 fans, the second-largest football crowd ever at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
“They dominated us as much as we’ve been dominated in the last five years,” said Denver Coach Dan Reeves, whose team slipped to 6-3 but remained atop the AFC West along with the Raiders. “Even if we had played as well as we could, the better team still won.”
The Chargers (4-5) were better because wide receiver Wes Chandler, who couldn’t walk when he awoke Sunday, got to the stadium at 8:45 for treatment on his gashed Achilles tendon. He proceeded to catch 6 passes for 84 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Chandler, playing with a three-week-old injury, could feel his right ankle bleeding. He was playing with the back of his shoe cut out and only a Band Aid on his foot, which had been sliced open when a teammate stepped on it in practice last month.
“It was very painful,” Chandler said. “The gash really opened up in LA last Monday night, and when I woke up Tuesday, it was swollen up like a softball.”
The original injury, which required 10 stitches, has left a lump on the back of Chandler’s foot.
Making the injury worse, tendinitis developed, and the Charger medics had to devote much of Sunday morning to loosening up the tightness in his ankle.
Chandler put himself through this torment because he had been stung by criticism over his off-year in 1984. “I was written off and I didn’t bust my butt in the heat and humidity last summer to sit and watch this year,” he said. “There’s no tomorrow for Wes Chandler.”
The Chargers were better Sunday because, for the first time this year, they looked like a complete team. “It was the first time we clicked in all aspects of the game,” said linebacker Linden King, whose white pants looked as if somebody had tried to give him a transfusion and missed. The blood came from a cut in his hand.
The Chargers were better because running back Gary Anderson shredded the Denver defense as if he were still playing in the USFL, rushing for 116 yards and one score.
Finally, the Chargers were better because their blitzing linebackers helped contain Bronco quarterback John Elway, and a pair of rookie defensive backs came up with a play that totally turned the game around.
First-year safety Jeff Dale intercepted an Elway pass and returned it 36 yards, leading to a Charger score. Even more important was a fumble he forced in the third quarter, with the Chargers in danger of losing a 17-3 lead.
Denver’s Gerald Willhite, after catching a 13-yard pass from Elway, was hit by Dale as he crossed the goal line in the third period. His fumble was recovered in the end zone by Wayne Davis.
“After we got humiliated by the Raiders, we needed a game like this,” Dale said.
“When they were driving on us, that was the time to gamble, so I dove at Willhite’s arm and got it with either my helmet or my arm,” he said.
San Diego defensive backfield coach Jim Wagstaff thought Watson had a clear shot at the ball. “Wayne just dove in and took it away,” Wagstaff said. “It was about time something good happened to us. We worked our fannies off and finally got rewarded.”
Said Davis: “I didn’t see him (Watson), but I felt him from the outside trying to get the ball away from me. To be honest, I thought Willhite had scored.”
One aspect of San Diego’s dominance: the Chargers hogged the ball for 10 minutes longer than the Broncos, who had won four in a row and hadn’t allowed more than 10 points in three weeks.
With the Raiders hitting him relentlessly Monday night, quarterback Dan Fouts never had a prayer. He had more time Sunday and completed 23 of 34 throws for 302 yards.
The Chargers were firmly in control most of the afternoon.
An 18-yard Fouts-to-Chandler touchdown pass on the last play of the first quarter gave the Chargers a 7-0 lead.
Bob Thomas kicked a 36-yard field goal to put the Chargers ahead 10-0 early in the second period.
Meanwhile, the San Diego defense was establishing itself, forcing the Broncos to settle for two field goal tries by Rich Karlis, both of which failed.
A 36-yard pass interception return by Dale set up the Chargers’ second touchdown late in the half.
Following a 22-yard run by Anderson, Chandler grabbed an eight-yard scoring pass, making it 17-0.
The Broncos scored on the last play of the half when Karlis kicked a 36-yard field goal.
The game appeared to be out of reach after Dale and Davis teamed to abort a Denver drive in the third quarter.
The Chargers, given this saving play by their defense, stung the Broncos with an 80-yard scoring drive and went ahead 24-3.
Anderson’s 16-yard run cemented the San Diego lead.
On Denver’s next series, two sacks set up a third and 42, forcing a desperation pass by Elway. Linebacker Billy Ray Smith intercepted at the 15 and the Chargers were in position for the kill as the final period began.
The Chargers had to settle for a 35-yard Thomas field goal, but still had a comfortable 27-3 lead.
Elway was replaced by Gary Kubiak, who threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Steve Sewell for Denver’s only touchdown.