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Chargers beat Seahawks everywhere except where it matters, the scoreboard
By Jim Trotter

November 6, 2000

SEATTLE -- There is heartbreak, and then there is what happened to the Chargers yesterday on a gray, sometimes rainy day in Husky Stadium.

With 5:36 to play, the Chargers felt good about the prospects of ending their two-week reign as the NFL's lone winless team. They had a one-point advantage on the scoreboard and a Tyson-over-Spinks advantage on the stats sheet.

They led in first downs, 22-5.

They led in passing yards, 282-33.

They led in rushing yards, 116-44.

They led in time of possession, 39:51-14:21.

And 5:36 later, they added to their league lead in misery.

In one of the more improbable finishes of this or any other season, the Chargers allowed the Seahawks, losers of five in a row, to control the ball for 16 plays while "driving" 36 net yards for Rian Lindell's 48-yard field goal as time expired.

The 17-15 loss made the Chargers just the fifth team since 1990 to open a season with nine consecutive losses, and as their players walked off the field they could do little more than shake their heads or smile in frustration.

It was a game they not only could have won, but should have won. But three turnovers by quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who left at the end of the third quarter with a groin/abdominal injury, and critical penalties against right tackle Vaughn Parker and special teamer Tony Darden as well as another failed defensive stand at the end added up to another woulda-coulda-shoulda defeat.

"It's not happening our way," said center Roman Fortin. "It's like you go to Vegas and you don't know why you come home with $100 bucks and the next time you're down $200. We're down about 10 grand."

If there is one play that will stay with the Chargers longer than any other, it was quarterback Jon Kitna evading the grasp of defensive end Neil Smith to complete an 18-yard mini-Hail Mary to wideout Darrell Jackson on third-and-16 from the San Diego 37 with 1:28 to play.

Smith, who has 101/2 career sacks against the Seahawks, just knew he was about to rack up another. He had such a clear shot at Kitna, with no blockers to impede his path, that he feared a trick play had been called. No such luck.

Instead of being sacked at the Seattle 46 to set up a fourth-and-33, Kitna spun free and lofted a football that seemed to have helium in it.

"The ball's up in the air for five minutes," linebacker Junior Seau said. "He knew that if he took a sack the game could be over."

Kitna didn't take the sack. He made a play, much to the surprise and chagrin of a Chargers defense that has squandered leads in the final three minutes of five games this season. In four of the games the defense blew leads in the final minute, with Kitna's magic act contributing to the latest one.

"Can you believe that?" safety Rodney Harrison asked in disbelief. "It's been that way all year for us. You can't forget a play like that. How can that happen? How can that happen? That's what happens when you're 0-9. If we're winning, that's a sack."

Said Smith: "I make that play and the ballgame's over."

Actually, the ballgame should have been over well before that considering San Diego's dominance. The Chargers set season highs in total yards (398), rushing yards (116) and time of possession (39:51) while limiting the Seahawks to opponent lows for first downs (9), total yards (128), average gain per play (2.8 yards), rushing yards (50), passing yards (78) and time of possession (20:09).

"We were lousy on offense," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said.

But his Seahawks (3-7) prevailed because:

 Harbaugh's two second-quarter fumbles set up 10-yard touchdown passes from Kitna to wideout Sean Dawkins and tight end Christian Fauria for a 14-0 lead.

 Parker's holding penalties negated rushes of 13 and 17 yards in the second quarter.

 Wideout Curtis Conway dropped a sure touchdown at the end of the first half, forcing the Chargers to settle for a field goal.

 The offense settled for field goals rather than touchdowns on two of its three trips inside the Seattle 11.

 Darden was offside on the kickoff after Moses Moreno directed the offense to the go-ahead field goal. The penalty cost San Diego 17 yards and allowed the Seahawks to start from their 34 rather than the 17.

"You have to earn the win," coach Mike Riley said. "We made too many mistakes to win. It's fine and good to say we were close, but you have to make the plays and we have to make the calls to win the ball game. We're just falling short."

© Copyright 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
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