The San Diego Chargers are losing players. They are losing patience. They are losing confidence.
They are losing games.
By the end of their latest defeat, a 23-17 exercise in lost momentum to the New Orleans Saints Sunday, starting quarterback Babe Laufenberg lost his wind.
Laufenberg took two fourth-quarter shots to the ribs. And, he said, “I was having trouble breathing.”
Moments earlier the Chargers expired for the second week in a row.
Moments after that, Charger Coach Al Saunders was roaring and bellowing his frustration at them in the locker room.
“He was just sharing what we all felt,” said defensive tackle Joe Phillips. The noise carried through two thick metal doorways and out into a tunnel where reporters waited for an explanation of how Saunders’ team wasted a 14-0 first-period lead.
With injuries sidelining center Don Macek and running back Gary Anderson, the Chargers were left with only one available offensive player, right guard Dennis McKnight, who started regularly in 1987.
And here were the New Orleans Saints, a team that arrived at San Diego-Jack Murphy Stadium with a 4-game winning streak, the second-longest in the history of their franchise.
Yet here were the Chargers bolting out to a 7-0 lead 4 minutes into the game on a 47-yard touchdown pass play, Laufenberg to rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller. It was a slant pattern on which Miller split the safety the way Charlie Joiner, now his receivers coach, used to do when he played the same position for the same team. It was also the longest Charger play from scrimmage this season.
And then there was free safety Vencie Glenn coming clean between right guard and right tackle to block Brian Hansen’s punt. Roy Bennett recovered in the end zone and the Chargers led, 14-0. There were still more than 9 minutes left in the first quarter.
It was a sad but clear case of too much too soon for the Chargers. Miller’s touchdown was their last of the day and only their sixth offensive 6-pointer in 6 games. Their record dropped to 2-4. Their embarrassment at being outgained in all 6 of those grew.
New Orleans (5-1) is tied with the Rams for first place in the NFC West.
The New Orleans’ comeback started when Saints’ placekicker Morten Andersen kicked a 27-yard field goal 5 minutes into the second period. Miller returned the ensuing kickoff 52 yards but an illegal block against Jeff Dale nullified it. Laufenberg then threw an interception when tight end Arthur Cox tipped the ball into the hands of cornerback Van Jakes. When Andersen connected from 35 yards it was 14-6.
Then Curtis Adams, Anderson’s last-second replacement, fumbled at the Charger 22. The call was a statue-of-liberty-play. Adams didn’t realize he was supposed to get the ball. New Orleans’ defensive end James Geathers recovered at the 25.
Three plays later Saints’ quarterback Bobby Hebert (22 of 36 for 236 yards) beat an all-out blitz and found Lonzell Hill in the endzone for a 19-yard touchdown. The victimized cornerback was Gill Byrd.
Five plays later Saints’ corner Reggie Sutton ran right through Charger wide receiver Quinn Early chasing a deep sideline pass from Laufenberg. No interference. No points. Lots of boos. “The refs are human sometimes, too,” Early said.
Laufenberg finished with 7 completions in 20 attempts for 120 yards. He said the loss hurt more than his ribs but admitted there might be cartilage and ligament damage.
New Orleans took its first lead when it marched 76 yards in 12 plays on the first possession of the second half. The touchdown came on a 10-yard pass from Hebert to wide receiver Eric Martin.