Chargers top Broncos to end two-game losing skid
Updated: Sunday October 21, 2001 11:48 PM
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The San Diego Chargers started the week with a new defensive coordinator, then opened the second half Sunday without star linebacker Junior Seau.
Nothing kept them from punishing the Denver Broncos.
The Chargers forced two turnovers in Denver territory in the second half, both setting up touchdown passes from Doug Flutie to Jeff Graham, and San Diego took out its frustrations with a 27-10 victory against its AFC West rival on Sunday.
The Chargers had been feeling the heat for blowing fourth-quarter leads in losing their previous two games. After starting the season with an AFC-best 3-0 record, they were in danger of dropping to .500.
"We learned from those experiences the last two weeks. I think it built character," said defensive end Marcellus Wiley, whose deflection led to a fourth-quarter interception.
"We walked into the fourth quarter this week and I think everybody was like, 'All right now, no more.' We made that statement today," Wiley said.
Actually, the Chargers set the tone in the third quarter. With Seau in the locker room getting treatment for a strained groin, his replacement, rookie Zeke Moreno, forced a fumble by Mike Anderson and safety Jason Perry recovered at the Denver 33.
Four plays later, Flutie hit Graham on a 17-yard touchdown pass for a 20-10 lead with 2:17 left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Wiley tipped a pass by Brian Griese, and Al Fontenot intercepted at the 38. Five plays later, Graham had a 20-yard TD catch. He beat second-year cornerback Deltha O'Neal both times.
"Junior's a great player, and when you lose a player of his caliber, you have to find ways as players to step it up," Fontenot said. "We rallied around each other and made plays when we were in position to make them."
The Chargers (4-2) are a half-game behind idle division leader Oakland.
"If you are really going to do anything in this division, you have to beat Denver," Chargers head coach Mike Riley said.
"We got a win, and that's the best anti-inflammatory," said Seau, who thinks he'll be OK for next Sunday's home game against Buffalo. "Big plays really had a big effect on this game. It turned the game around."
Denver (3-3) dropped into fourth place with its second consecutive divisional road loss.
"The AFC West is the toughest division there is and to go on the road and stink it up like we did today is ridiculous," said Denver's Rod Smith, the NFL's leading receiver. He had nine catches for 86 yards Sunday.
Mark Banker got a win in his first game as Chargers' interim defensive coordinator. He was promoted from cornerbacks coach to replace Jim Vechiarella, who resigned Monday. Vechiarella, the linebackers coach, had been calling the defensive signals in the absence of Joe Pascale, who's had three back operations since late August.
"We needed to win," Banker said. "We had two tough losses and we knew we could have won those two games."
Flutie completed 21 of 32 passes for 280 yards and two TDs, with one interception. Rookie LaDainian Tomlinson, the NFL's second-leading rusher, was held to a season-low 58 yards on 25 carries.
Griese, who came in with a sore right shoulder, threw two interceptions and was sacked four times. He was 26-of-41 for 212 yards and one touchdown.
"Right now we have to play a perfect game to win," Griese said. "We're not a good enough team to overcome some of the breaks we're given."
It wasn't always pretty for the Chargers, although they got a huge boost when Ronney Jenkins returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. He slipped a tackle at the 30, turned around kicker Jason Elam at the 50 and was gone. He's returned two kicks for touchdowns in his two-year career.
The Chargers got inside the Denver 7-yard line twice in the first half but had only a field goal to show for it.
The play that hurt came with the Chargers on the Denver 6 with 11 seconds before halftime and no timeouts left, trying to add to their 13-7 lead. Under pressure, Flutie threw a bad pass off his back foot and was intercepted in the end zone by Eric Brown.
Earlier in the quarter, the Chargers reached the Denver 2 but had to take Wade Richey's 21-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.
San Diego pushed it to 13-0 on Richey's 51-yarder with 2:20 left before halftime, but Denver came back and scored on Griese's 6-yard pass to tight end Desmond Clark.
Notes: Chargers CB Ryan McNeil got his NFL-high sixth interception when he robbed Rod Smith on a long pass in the first quarter. ... Elam kicked a 45-yard field goal midway through the third quarter. ... Chargers DL Maa Tanuvasa was helped off the field late in the game and might have a broken bone in his left leg, Riley said. ... The Chargers have beaten Denver just four times in 13 games since Mike Shanahan became the Broncos' head coach in 1995.