Whatever is wrong with the San Diego Chargers, it’s not the uniforms.
Despite wearing their classic powder-blue and lightning bolt uniforms from the team’s glory years, the Chargers saw their winless streak reach eight games Sunday night as Oakland Raider rookie Sebastian Janikowski kicked five field goals to lift the AFC West leaders to a 15-13 victory.
Janikowski’s 24-yarder with 13 seconds remaining nullified a Charger comeback in which Jim Harbaugh hit Freddie Jones with second-half touchdown passes of eight and 21 yards. The Raiders led at halftime, 12-0.
The defeat came before 66,655 fans and 150 San Diego cops assigned to prevent a repeat of the fan violence that erupted last year when the Chargers defeated the Raiders.
The Chargers are 0-8 and the Raiders are 7-1 after extending their win streak to five.
“This is going to be painful,” said Charger linebacker Junior Seau, who is expected to get a contract extension today. “It’s going to hurt.”
Part of the pain is the fact that Charger penalties sustained Raider drives in the first half that resulted in field goals of 40, 40, 54 and 29 yards.
“The Raiders are a good team,” said Charger safety Rodney Harrison, “but I think we pretty much beat ourselves. It’s frustrating. That pretty much sums up our season.”
Even with the miscues, the outcome might have been different had the Raiders not blocked a 40-yard field goal by John Carney early in the fourth quarter.
Carney, the team’s all-time scoring leader, declined to make excuses. “It was a good snap,” he said. “It just got blocked.”
Harbaugh completed 25 of 35 passes for 222 yards, with one interception. Raider quarterback Rich Gannon completed 16 of 35 for 156 yards, also with one interception.
On the final play, Harbaugh lofted a 50-yard pass intended for Trevor Gaylor in the end zone. It was snagged by safety Marquez Pope, and the Chargers remained the only winless team in the NFL.
If things were hard-hitting and dramatic on the field, they were less so in the stands and the parking lot, where the presence of the largest contingent of police ever assigned to a San Diego sporting event prevented a repeat of last year’s brawl that resulted in 150 arrests.
Unfamiliar with being in the lead, Charger coach Mike Riley said he dared not get too optimistic when the Chargers took a 13-12 lead with just over five minutes remaining.
“I kind of brushed those thoughts aside and just tried to keep playing,” Riley said.
After being four for four in the first half, Janikowski missed a 42-yard attempt early in the third quarter. He said the miss was on his mind when he got his final chance.
“I had approached the ball too soon so I slowed down this time, big time,” said Janikowski, whose five field goals tied a Raider record.
The crowd, the second largest in Charger history, seemed evenly split between the two teams, with a large contingent of Raider fans from Los Angeles, some with signs pleading for owner Al Davis to bring his team back to Los Angeles.
“I felt I was at a Muhammad Ali fight tonight,” said Raider coach Jon Gruden. “Half of the crowd was rooting for us and half was footing for them.”
In the final drive, the Raiders moved 58 yards on 13 plays, including a pass from Gannon to Andre Rison for 18 yards.
“It’s about time for something to go our way,” said the Chargers’ Jones, who set a career high with 10 catches for 111 yards. “It’s got to start happening.”
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NFL WEEK 9
TAMPA BAY: 41
The Buccaneers ended the Vikings’ bid to remain perfect and stopped their losing streak at four. D8
The Ravens went a fifth consecutive game without a touchdown and lost their third in a row. D10
GREEN BAY: 20
N.Y. JETS: 20
ST. LOUIS: 34
SAN FRANCISCO: 24
NEW ORLEANS: 21
N.Y. GIANTS: 24
DALLAS (OT): 17
KANSAS CITY: 24
SAN DIEGO: 13