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Chargers Need Carney and a Lot More in Second Half : Pro football: After a 4-4 start, San Diego faces Miami, Kansas City, Denver and Oakland, all but the Broncos at Jack Murphy Stadium, in succession this month.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They could do little wrong a year ago at this time, jumping out to a 7-1 record on the way to making it to the Super Bowl for the first time. But now the San Diego Chargers sit 4-4, confronted by a November death march against the likes of Miami (5-3), Kansas City (7-1), Denver (4-4) and Oakland (6-2).

“We are set up for a better second half,” said John Carney, Charger kicker. “We missed a preseason game [canceled because of artificial turf problems], came out of the preseason with injuries and then traveled east a lot.

“Now we play four of our next five games at home. And we don’t plan on floundering. We have our sights set on the playoffs. We think we can get there with a 12-4 or 11-5 record.”

Last season the Chargers rode Carney’s leg hard, relying on his consistency to bail out an up-and-down offense. In the first eight games a year ago, Carney was successful on 22 of 23 field goal attempts. This year he is eight for nine.

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With Carney the Chargers were able to put points on the board. With Carney they were able to play to their strength, hogging the ball with running back Natrone Means. And with Carney, who has the fourth best field-goal percentage in NFL history, they could score early. then put the game in the grasp of linebacker Junior Seau and defensive end Leslie O’Neal.

Carney went on to lead the league in scoring with 135 points, connecting on 34 of 38 field goal tries and all 33 PATs.

His lack of activity this season, however, is reflected in the AFC West Division standings.

“I’m a placekicker, not a football expert,” Carney said. “I don’t know what’s going on with this team. I don’t see any glaring problem. Once a team gets the momentum going, it can mean a lot.

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“We started off 6-0 last year, it was exciting and the city and the nation started paying attention to the Chargers. We struggled at midseason and the naysayers came out, predicting we wouldn’t be around for the end of the season. Well, this year we just gave the naysayers a head start.”

In trying to right themselves, the Chargers begin with Miami Sunday night in a nationally televised game. History says it’s just what the Chargers need:

--A year ago, Dolphin kicker Pete Stoyanovich’s 48-yard field-goal attempt with one second remaining in their AFC Divisional Playoff game went wide right, propelling San Diego into the AFC championship game.

--Thirteen years ago, Rolf Benirschke’s kick 13 minutes 52 seconds into overtime of an AFC divisional playoff game with Miami boosted the Chargers to a 41-38 victory.

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“When Stoyanovich lined up for his kick I watched the snap,” Carney said. “I pretty much felt if the snap was good, it was a done deal. The snap was high and I knew he didn’t get all of it. You can’t put that on Pete’s shoulders.”

As for Benirschke’s kick in the game voted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the “NFL’s Game of the ‘80s,” Carney said, “I’ve heard a lot about it. I didn’t see it. I was probably playing soccer on some field at the time.”

The next big kick, however, might belong to Carney, who has already made one of the great comebacks in NFL history. Cut by Tampa Bay in 1988, and then cut again by the Chargers in 1990, Carney came back to the Chargers after the fourth game of the 1990 season and now he holds eight team records.

“I wouldn’t say a lot of people are making reservations for Phoenix [the Super Bowl site] right now,” Carney said. “But we’re a different team now and I’m confident we’re going to make a strong run in the second half.”

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ON TV

* RAIDER EXPRESS

Oakland (6-2) at Cincinnati (3-5) Channel 4, 10 a.m.: The Bengals flopped in a push to become contenders last week, now try to excel as spoilers. Raider quarterback Jeff Hostetler, recovering from a larynx injury, has a 101.1 rating on third downs. And that was before playing the Bengals, who rank last in defense in the AFC.

Sore throat alert: The Bengals will be taking dead aim at Hostetler, and this season they have already piled up 25 sacks.

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* MIGHTY CAROLINA

Carolina (3-5) at San Francisco (5-3) Channel 11, 1 p.m.: This one should be written off as a mismatch, but then the Panthers have won three games in a row and the 49ers are no better in the standings than the Rams. Big game against Dallas is next week, but the panicky 49ers might press for Steve Young’s return from a shoulder injury.

Derrick who? Carolina running back Derrick Moore is on a pace to gain 1,068 yards.

* PARITY BOWL

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Buffalo (5-3) at Indianapolis (5-3) Channel 4, 1 p.m.: The Colts in the playoffs? They have won four of their last five games and catch the Bills without wide receiver Andre Reed and running back Thurman Thomas, who are sidelined with hamstring injuries. Before ordering the champagne check on Jim Harbaugh’s status. The Colt quarterback has been bothered by a groin injury.

Second chance: Kicker Cary Blanchard is eight for eight in field-goal attempts since joining the team in early October.

* AFL-LIKE FOE

Miami (5-3) at San Diego (4-4) ESPN, 5 p.m.: When these two teams meet they usually work over the scoreboard. They have averaged 58.3 points a game in 10 meetings since 1980. The Dolphins used a running game to take the pressure off Dan Marino upon his return from knee and hip injuries last week. The Chargers will match the Dolphins’ ground attack with Natrone Means, who has a 6.1-yard average in previous meetings with Miami.

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ESPN incentive: Marino needs 329 more yards to become the NFL’s all-time passing leader, surpassing Fran Tarkenton.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE

Green Bay (5-3) at Minnesota (3-5): The Vikings are down to their last gasp, but they have won five of the last six games with the Packers in Minnesota. Has the sun set on Minnesota quarterback Warren Moon, who has 10 touchdown passes, but also nine interceptions? Packer quarterback Brett Favre threw four touchdown passes in their first meeting but that was on grass. The Packers have lost nine in a row on fake grass.

Scoring machine: Favre has 40 touchdown passes in the last 16 games.

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Detroit (3-5) at Atlanta (5-3): The Falcons and Lion coach Wayne Fontes have one thing in common: both figure to be long gone by season’s end. Atlanta’s run-and-shoot offense has been more like pass incomplete and punt, scoring only 11 touchdowns in eight games. Atlanta is tied for first in the NFC West Division, but Tampa Bay is the only team it has beaten with a winning record. Fontes’ Lions are 0-4 on the road.

The difference is Morten Andersen. The Falcons have been outscored 175 to 159, but they have Andersen, who has made 18 of 19 field goal attempts.

UNEXPECTED POWERHOUSES

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Pittsburgh (4-4) at Chicago (6-2): The Steelers went flat after losing quarterback Neil O’Donnell earlier this season, and although O’Donnell is back, Pittsburgh has yet to regain last year’s form. The Bears continue to surprise on offense, quarterback Erik Kramer having thrown 14 touchdown passes in the last five games. Pittsburgh has the No. 2 defense against the rush, but does it have anyone who can stop wide receiver Curtis Conway? No.

Key to success: Why has Kramer come on like some kind of modern-day Otto Graham? His offensive line has allowed a league-low four sacks.

Washington (3-6) at Kansas City (7-1): The Chiefs continue to dine on turnovers. They are a league-best plus-86 since 1985 and lead the league this year with a plus-11 mark. The Redskins rank third in running the ball, and will have to hug the ground even more because they will be playing without wide receivers Henry Ellard, who has a pulled hamstring, and Michael Westbrook, who has a sore knee.

Overnight sensation: A year ago Joe Montana and Steve Bono combined to throw for 20 touchdowns in 16 games. This season Bono has 15 after eight games.

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RUNNING IN PLACE

Arizona (3-5) at Denver (4-4): It’s Bronco running back Terrell Davis’ turn to fatten his rushing stats against Buddy Ryan’s gaping-hole defense. Arizona has already allowed more yards rushing in eight games than it allowed all last season. Quarterback John Elway has won both of his previous starts against the Cardinals. No reason to think he won’t remain perfect. Did you know: Arizona is 6-2 in games decided after the two-minute warning the last two seasons--the best mark in the NFL.

*

Houston (3-5) at Cleveland (4-4): Some more mediocre AFC Central football to put the nation to sleep. Browns go with rookie quarterback Eric Zeier again, while the Oilers stay with Chris Chandler. That’s good news for Cleveland, which has 13 interceptions.

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Frozen tundra: The Browns have a 292-146 scoring advantage the last two seasons at home.

COLLAPSE OR REBOUND?

St. Louis (5-3) at New Orleans (2-6): The Rams’ brush with reality has resulted in consecutive losses. Hard to believe, of course. Now, would a third straight defeat be a complete surprise? Wide receiver Isaac Bruce is 62 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark and the citizens of St. Louis have talked about awarding him the Gateway Arch for his outstanding play.

A chorus line: The Rams signed kicker Dean Biasucci, while the Saints went with Doug Brien.

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PAPER BAG TIME

New England (2-6) at N.Y. Jets (2-7): Patriot Matt Bahr, with 504, and Jet Nick Lowery, with 526, are the only active kickers with more than 500 PATs. Considering the interest in this game, why not let these two pair off like old-time gunfighters and kick it out?

Bubby, Boomer, who cares: Boomer Esiason remains sidelined with a concussion, so Bubby Brister tries to play again on a sore knee.

N.Y. Giants (3-5) at Seattle (2-6): The Seahawks’ bid to get a new stadium won’t work with games like this to sell. Rick Mirer returns to quarterback the Seahawks because John Friesz injured his shoulder. Giant quarterback Dave Brown missed practice because of a sore knee, but practice hasn’t helped him so far, so the team expects him to play without a problem.

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The Warren report: Chris Warren has given the Seahawks the No. 1 AFC rushing attack, which Seattle has run into two whole wins.

BYE WEEK

Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.


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