San Diego Beats Odds--and Seattle : Chargers Surprise AFC West Leaders, Snap Losing Streak

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

The wicked temptation here is to say the San Diego Chargers don’t even know how to have a bad season.

This, after all, was going to be the home opener in which heavily favored Seattle sent a small crowd off into the late afternoon haze muttering from the holes punched through the bags they were wearing over their heads.

A loss would have dropped the Chargers to 0-3 and extended their NFL-high losing streak to nine games. It would have given them a leg up on the draft derby that will determine who gets UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman next spring.

And it would have provided Seattle with an early two-game lead in the AFC West.


Instead, the Charger defense limited the Seahawks to two field goals by Norm Johnson. A Charger running back scored a rushing touchdown for the first time in 28 quarters.

And, the Chargers won, 17-6.

The wicked temptation would be to say the Chargers would have been better off losing. But that would have been unfair to a team that has never stopped trying to do better than it knows how ever since training camp began 2 months ago.

“What this does is kind of keep the wolves out of the henhouse for a while,” Charger guard Dennis (Conan) McKnight said.


McKnight made the key block on Seahawk linebacker Brian Bosworth with 4:05 to play that enabled Gary Anderson to slip by en route to a 25-yard touchdown run that accounted for the game’s final score.

This was long after Seahawk wide receiver Steve Largent caught a 19-yard pass from Dave Krieg to break Charlie Joiner’s all-time NFL reception yardage record of 12,146.

It was shortly after Charger defensive end Lee Williams sent Krieg from the game with a separated shoulder after a punishing, but legal, tackle. After the game, Seattle officials said Krieg will miss at least 6 weeks.

Anderson’s touchdown was long overdue. As it is, the Charger offense has scored just 2 touchdowns this season and 9 in their last 11 games.


Overdue, too, were the four Charger interceptions--two apiece by linebacker Keith Browner and cornerback Gill Byrd. The Charger defense hadn’t intercepted any passes in its first two games.

Browner’s first one came on the game’s first series when 6-foot 7-inch defensive lineman Tyrone Keys deflected Krieg’s pass. The ball bounced squarely into Browner’s hands at the Charger 45. No Seahawk ever got near him.

Vince Abbott, who later added a 48-yard field goal, the longest of his career, converted the extra point, and the Chargers had all the points they would need.

Anderson’s touchdown, after a fake reverse to wide receiver Quinn Early, simply made the waning moments more of a celebration and less of an exercise in anxiety for the young Chargers.


They ran several reverses early in the game. And when quarterback Babe Laufenberg got the arm signal for “Fake 60 Outside Z Reverse” from the sidelines from backup quarterback Mark Malone, he got excited.

Anderson, who finished with a career-high 120 yards in 19 carries, the most rushing yards by a Charger in three years, took care of the rest.

“We can’t be any prouder,” said Charger Coach Al Saunders after the game.

Saunders said Browner’s touchdown made him so happy. “I gave him my first-born son. But don’t tell my wife.”


The Charger running game, which averaged five yards per carry in 32 tries, made up for another below-average passing afternoon by Laufenberg, who finished with 11 completions in 23 attempts for 112 yards, 1 interception and no touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Charger defense that utilized four down linemen all game for the first time this year, stopped the Seattle running game that ranked third in the NFL before Sunday.