Fading Chargers Will Try for Sweep : Raiders: San Diego’s first of three victories this season came at the Coliseum.
It was the Raiders’ darkest hour since Buffalo in January. Nine months later, Oct. 6, 3,000 miles west, with all the comforts of home, the Raiders lost to San Diego, the Chargers’ first victory after six losses.
Defensive end Greg Townsend puffed on a cigarette afterward and stormed out of the locker room. The Raiders fell to 3-3, with a brutal stretch of season to follow.
It was difficult to imagine that the Raiders would win five of their next six, regain the division lead in the AFC West and arrive today at Jack Murphy Stadium a streaking team with a score to settle.
The score was 21-13 at the Coliseum. Raider emotions that day did not raise pulse rates.
“We weren’t into that game like we should have been,” Coach Art Shell said. “And they came in here and stole the game.”
The Raiders have come to take it back. It won’t take much to get ready this time.
“That won’t be a problem,” Shell said.
A tale of two teams headed in opposite directions: Last week, the Raiders gained a paltry 176 total yards, threw 10 passes and beat the Cincinnati Bengals by 24 points. The Chargers gained a season-high 186 rushing yards but suffered a three-touchdown loss to the New York Jets.
The Chargers self-destructed almost on impact, fumbling the opening kickoff.
San Diego Coach Dan Henning can only admire the Raiders’ efficiency.
“When you only have to pass the ball 10 times in a game and you win by three touchdowns, you’re playing pretty good physical, field-position football,” he said.
Henning, trying to save his job in the closing weeks, can’t like his chances in the wake of injuries to several key players. Cornerback Gill Byrd has an ankle problem, tackle Harry Swayne a bad leg, and linebacker Henry Rolling and first-round rookie safety Stanley Richard have shoulder injuries.
There is also quarterback John Friesz, who suffered a sprained left ankle last week and is questionable for today’s game.
If Friesz can’t play, the Raiders can tee off against perennial backup Bob Gagliano, who had thrown one pass, incomplete, this season before relieving Friesz against the Jets.
The Chargers were improving under Friesz, who was thrust into the starting position based on his second-half performance against the Raiders in the last exhibition.
In the week that followed, San Diego traded former starter Billy Joe Tolliver to the Atlanta Falcons and asked Friesz to steer a sinking ship into Pittsburgh for the opener. He was afforded little warning or practice.
“It didn’t help things,” Friesz said. “It was a difficult situation to go into Pittsburgh in the opener this year and really face a first-string defense for the first time.”
The Chargers lost their first six games before beating the Raiders at the Coliseum.
San Diego came off its bye and scored consecutive home victories over Seattle and New Orleans, but that momentum fizzled with a forgettable performance in East Rutherford, N.J., last week.
Two of the Chargers’ three victories have been over current divisional leaders.
“I don’t know if it makes it more frustrating,” Henning said. “Those two teams we beat that were division leaders, the Raiders were not a divisional leader at the time (but are now), the Saints were. They’re good strong football teams, which makes me believe we’re on the right track.
“We’re able to compete with the tougher football teams. When we click all the way across the board, we’re capable. But we didn’t blow anybody away. We beat the Raiders by eight and the Saints by three, and they were both a struggle.”
Friesz said three victories are not much to build on.
“It tells us that we have the ability. If we play up to our ability, we can play with just about anybody. But realistically, we’re probably a player or two away from doing the things we’d like to do.”
Time and today, perhaps, will prove whether the Chargers are a head coach away.
The Raiders activated rookie Nick Bell from injured reserve Saturday, making him eligible for today’s game. Bell’s return from cracked ribs suffered Oct. 28 marks the first time this season that runners Bell, Roger Craig and Marcus Allen have been simultaneously sound since Aug. 3, when Bell pulled a hamstring during an exhibition game in Tokyo. To clear a roster spot for Bell, the Raiders placed backup tackle Rory Graves on injured reserve with a back injury.
Defensive end Anthony Smith, with 8 1/2 sacks, is fast becoming the Raiders’ dominant pass rusher. “He’s really turning it on,” Coach Art Shell said of the second-year player from Arizona. “He’s what we thought he could be when we drafted him (in the first round, 1989).”
San Diego tailback Rod Bernstine returned to the lineup last week after sitting out four weeks because of a back injury. Bernstine gained 26 yards in four carries. While Bernstine was away, Marion Butts regained the team rushing lead with 621 yards to Bernstine’s 609.
Former USC star Junior Seau leads the Chargers in tackles with 90 and in sacks with six. . . . The Chargers, the NFL’s second-ranked rushing team behind Buffalo, are averaging 4.7 yards per running play.