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Longest Current Losing Streak in NFL Grows; Team Can’t Find Way to Explain the Problem

TIMES STAFF WRITER

You can say this about Dan Henning-coached football teams: They lose.

There were circumstances in Atlanta, during Henning’s 22-41-1 tenure as head coach, which made victory difficult to achieve. And if you have all day, you might find any number of plausible excuses to explain away the nightmarish results in San Diego.

But still they lose and lose some more under Dan Henning, until losing becomes all that matters.

Sunday, in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs (3-2) escaped with a 14-13 victory over the Chargers in front of 44,907. The Chargers (0-5) extended the NFL’s longest current losing streak to eight games and dropped Henning’s three-year mark in San Diego to 12-25.

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Henning, whose teams were 10-15 in games decided by seven or fewer points while in Atlanta, has posted a 4-17 mark in close games here.

“I don’t know what to say,” Chargers safety Martin Bayless said. “We lost every way you can lose. There hasn’t been a way that we haven’t lost.”

Indeed, the Chargers do not lack creativity in achieving defeat:

- They had a 36-yard field-goal attempt bounce unsuccessfully off the upright.

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- They had a first and 10 at the Chiefs’ 18 on the final play of the third quarter wiped out by a Ronnie Harmon 15-yard penalty for “chop blocking.”

- They had piled up 112 yards on 25 carries from Rod Bernstine, but on fourth and one on a drive to win the game, Bernstine was stuffed for no gain.

- They outgained the Chiefs in total offensive yardage, 311-182, but could not find the end zone in the final three quarters.

“It’s been wild,” Bayless said. “At this point you just wish you could play the Raiders tomorrow to get this bad taste out of your mouth as soon as possible, and take out your frustration on somebody else instead of going through a whole week knowing you dominated the whole game, and still didn’t win.”

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A combination of poor play-calling by Henning and poor decision-making by quarterback John Friesz wasted the Chargers’ last gasp for victory.

After Chiefs kicker Nick Lowery was wide left from 44 yards, the Chargers took possession at their 28-yard line, trailing 14-13 with 3:11 to play.

The Chargers already had 156 yards on the ground, but on first and 10 Friesz came out throwing.

“The running game was working,” said Chiefs nose tackle Dan Saleaumua, who played at Sweetwater High School. “They were killing us with it. Why they came out passing, I’ll never know. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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Friesz came out throwing in the direction of wide receiver Anthony Miller, but came closer to hitting the Chiefs’ bench.

“On that play, it’s a poor decision on my part,” Friesz said.

Friesz threw incomplete to Anthony Miller on the sideline, but he said he should have thrown a screen pass to tight end Arthur Cox.

On second down, Friesz went deep into double coverage to Miller and the ball bounced to the ground, incomplete.

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“I don’t think that’s what Dan (Henning) wanted to do,” Kansas City Coach Marty Schottenheimer said. “I got a peek at Dan across the field, and he didn’t look too happy after that play.”

Friesz said he saw Kansas City safety Deron Cherry “bite” on his fake handoff to Bernstine, and so instead of throwing an intermediate pass to H-back Craig McEwen, he went for it all.

“There has been some talk whether or not I should have taken it,” Friesz said. “I stood by my decision on that play; Dan wasn’t sure if it was there or not, but we’ll have to see tomorrow on film.”

On third down Friesz went to his second receiver and completed a short pass to Harmon, who squeezed nine yards out of the play to the Charger 37. Fourth and one with 2:39 to play. Timeout, San Diego.

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“Every week we come up with one play we feel we can run no matter what the defense in short-yardage situations,” guard David Richards said. “We had used this same play four or five times on the first drive and had gained big yardage. It was probably our best play out of this game.”

The Chargers came into the game averaging a league-high 5.6 yards per carry, and Bernstine had gained an average of 4.4 yards a carry on his first 25 rushes against the Chiefs. He got the call once again.

“It was a crunch play; it was our bread and butter in the game plan this week,” Bernstine said. “I was making most of my yards on that play during the game, and so we ran it, and I thought I had the first down.”

The officials called for a measurement to prove Bernstine wrong. The Chiefs took possession of the ball and ran out the clock.

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“We don’t get any style points today,” Schottenheimer said, “but in this business all we’re concerned about is winning and competing. And we were able to do both of those today.”

The Chiefs broke out quickly on Harvey Williams’ 76-yard kickoff return to open the game. Defensive back Donald Frank caught Williams from behind, grabbed him by the face mask and the Chargers were penalized an additional eight yards to the Chargers’ seven-yard line. Christian Okoye slammed into the end zone three plays later, and 1 minute 19 seconds into the game, the Chiefs led, 7-0.

The Chargers struck back, however, and after receiving a boost from Nate Lewis with a 41-yard kickoff return, they marched 54 yards in nine plays to tie the game. Bernstine, lined up behind Marion Butts in the same backfield, took a mighty leap for the final two yards.

The Chiefs took a 14-7 lead on another botched assignment in the Chargers’ secondary. Wide receiver Robb Thomas waited all alone in the end zone for quarterback Steve DeBerg to wave hello to the family back home before completing an 11-yard touchdown pass.

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The Chargers advanced to the Chiefs’ 37 in the second quarter, but Friesz’s fourth-and-four pass to Lewis was too low. They nudged the ball to the Chiefs’ 18 on their next drive, but after calling timeout, kicker John Carney’s 36-yard field-goal try hit the right upright.

“This is a good, well-coached football team, despite their record,” Schottenheimer said. “They missed a short field goal at the end of the half, otherwise things may have been different.”

The outcome may have been different, all right, but every time the Chargers’ offense came close to the end zone, it recoiled.

On their first possession of the third quarter, the Chargers advanced to the Chiefs’ eight-yard line before settling for a 26-yard Carney field goal. They made it to the Chiefs’ 33 on their next effort, but Friesz’s pass for Lewis on fourth and seven fell incomplete.

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Miller caught an 11-yard pass from Friesz on the team’s ensuing possession and advanced to the Chiefs’ 18-yard line, but Harmon was charged with blocking Chiefs defensive lineman Neil Smith below the knees. The 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed the Chargers back to the Chiefs’ 44, and eventually they punted.

“I got an explanation (from the referee) and I didn’t like it,” Henning said.

The Chargers kept hammering, and after Kitrick Taylor provided a 19-yard punt return, Butts exploded for a 46-yard gain off a short pass from Friesz. Butts appeared trapped in the backfield for a loss, but ignored Saleaumua’s tackle attempt, reversed himself and went rumbling down the sideline. Jayice Pearson’s lunge pushed Butts out at the Chiefs’ nine-yard line.

On third and goal from the five, the Chargers went to the air again. The Chiefs double-covered Harmon and Miller and let Lewis go with single coverage.

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Henning said Friesz should have thrown the ball to Lewis, but when Friesz took a look at Lewis, he felt he was too closely covered. He looked for Harmon, and looked for Miller, and then he was decked by Smith. Friesz fumbled, the ball was recovered by H-back Derrick Walker, and the Chargers called on Carney for a 37-yard field goal.

They would get the ball one more time after Lowery missed from 44 yards, but as cornerback Gill Byrd said, “it was the same old story.

“But it’s gonna turn around. You keep coming in, you keep fighting, you keep struggling. In due time we’re going to reap if we don’t grow weary. That’s the key. We’re going to reap if we don’t grow weary.”

* LOW FIVE

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Charger running backs Rod Bernstine (112 yards) and Marion Butts (45) did their part. C17A

To a man, the Chiefs felt fortunate to get a victory against the Chargers. C17A

Report Card, Notebook C17B


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