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Bolts miss starters but not plays as defense stars
By Jim Trotter

October 11, 1999

PONTIAC, Mich. -- The defense began the game without both of its starting cornerbacks and lost its starting middle linebacker 31/2 minutes into the third quarter.

The offense began the game without its starting quarterback, starting running back, starting left tackle and a starting wideout. Late in the first quarter, it lost another starting wideout to injury.

Time to do the math: No Charles Dimry, no Terrance Shaw, no Eric Hill, no Jim Harbaugh, no Natrone Means, no John Jackson, no Mikhael Ricks and no Jeff Graham equals no problem.

With the defense setting up the go-ahead field goal and scoring the back-breaking touchdown on a 42-yard fumble return by cornerback Darryll Lewis, the Chargers pulled away from ex-San Diego coach Bobby Ross and the Detroit Lions yesterday for a 20-10 victory before 61,481 at the Silverdome.

The win improved the Chargers' record to 3-1 and set up a showdown for first place in the AFC West on Sunday against the 3-1 Seattle Seahawks at Qualcomm Stadium.

Don't be surprised if Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren shows up with bags under his eyes after sleepless nights trying to find an answer to San Diego's defense.

All the unit did yesterday was intercept a pass, force a fumble, sack Charlie Batch six times and limit the Lions to 229 total yards, including 3 on the ground in the second half and 1.5 per rush for the game. Detroit came in averaging 4.1 yards per carry.

"That's where it starts, with stopping the run," said defensive coordinator Joe Pascale. "They think they're going to run the ball, and they can't run the ball. Eventually, you get them where you want them and then you can blitz and make some plays."

There was no shortage of sterling plays for the San Diego defense. Consider:

 Strong safety Rodney Harrison knocked the ball from the hands of fullback Cory Schlesinger on a third-and-1 from the Detroit 47, and Lewis scooped it up and went the distance for his second touchdown in three games.

Harrison also tipped away a pass to prevent what would have been a 77-yard TD to Germane Crowell.

 Reserve linebacker Tracy Simien intercepted a Batch pass on the first play after replacing the injured Hill, setting up the go-ahead field goal.

 Defensive tackle Jamal Williams and linebacker Junior Seau stopped Schlesinger on a fourth-and-inches from the San Diego 32 with the Chargers leading 13-10 late in the third quarter.

 Seau tied his career high with two sacks, defensed one pass, disrupted the Lions' blocking schemes with his blitzes and tied cornerback Jimmy Spencer for the club lead with 12 tackles.

 Safety Michael Dumas made a potential touchdown-saving tackle on a first-and-goal from the 4 in the second quarter, and two incompletions later the Lions settled for a field goal and 10-3 lead.

"Our defense was unbelievable," said Chargers coach Mike Riley, whose squad was without injured cornerbacks Terrance Shaw and Charles Dimry.

The offense was not as dominant, but it made strides after the previous week's 132-yard, one-first down effort against the Chiefs.

Quarterback Erik Kramer, starting for the injured Harbaugh, finished 20-of-34 passing for 208 yards and no touchdowns, with one interception.

He was somewhat hamstrung because the Chargers chose not to play Means because of his tender ankles and had just two healthy wideouts after Graham sprained his left ankle in the first quarter.

That left Chris Penn, Bryan Still and Ricks, who missed most of the week with a stinger in his neck and wasn't cleared for emergency duty until just before game time.

Penn made the most of the opportunity by tying his career high with seven receptions, for 79 yards. More telling: Five of the catches were third-down conversions, including two that required gains of 11 and 19 yards.

Penn got 12 and 19.

"That's just him knowing me," Penn said of Kramer, who teamed with him in Chicago for two seasons. "Erik did some good things out there, made some good throws."

Riley said he won't decide on his starting quarterback for the Seattle game until later in the week. But he said Kramer did nothing to hurt his cause.

"I thought for the most part he led our team in a not-too-easy environment," Riley said. "He did a good job for us. I'm real happy for him and our team with the win. Whenever you can quarterback a team to a win, it's a pretty good deal."

The offense wasn't productive on the scoreboard, managing just one touchdown -- on a 3-yard run by Tremayne Stephens -- and two John Carney field goals.

But it did have drives of seven, nine, 11 and 12 plays, which allowed the defense to catch its breath against the elusive Batch, who would have been sacked a dozen times had it not been for his quick feet and athleticism.

"We kind of felt that he was a guy we could get to," said end Al Fontenot, who along with Seau, Norman Hand, Harrison, Raylee Johnson and Cedric Harden accounted for the sacks.

The last time the Chargers opened a season 3-1, Ross was their head coach. A handful of the players still around from his tenure said that there was added emotion coming into the game but that they didn't think about again until halftime and the fourth quarter.

"Bottom line, I did not want to lose to Bobby Ross," said linebacker Lew Bush. "And I'm sure he didn't want to lose to us. We made the plays when we had the opportunities, and now we're right where we want to be.

"We're tied for first at the quarter point with a big game coming up. That's just what we wanted."

© Copyright 1999 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
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