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NFL Recap (San Diego-Tennessee)

Posted: Sun September 13, 1998 at 9:15 p.m. EDT


NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Natrone Means scored on a one-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter as the San Diego Chargers spoiled the Tennessee Oilers' debut in Vanderbilt Stadium with a 13-7 victory.

Means capped an eight-play, 72-yard drive with 3:53 left in the period, helping rookie quarterback Ryan Leaf improve his career record to 2-0. Leaf, who won his first professional start last week against Buffalo, set up the TD with a 20-yard run to the 1.

Means, who rushed for 87 yards on 23 carries, broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and rambled around right end to give San Diego its first 2-0 start since 1996. Prior to the TD, the Chargers were held to a pair of field goals by John Carney in the first half.

"I did a good job of preparing for the game this week," said Leaf. "The offensive line did a good job of protecting me today. We ran the ball very well today."

Leaf, who was 13-of-24 for 179 yards, ignited the winning drive with a 34-yard toss to Mikhael Ricks, before a 16-yard completion to tight end Freddie Jones gave the Chargers a first down at the Oilers' 21.

"I thought Ryan Leaf played well today and took advantage of defensive mistakes," noted Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher.

The Oilers drew a capacity crowd of 41,089 in the first regular-season game at Vanderbilt Stadium. Tennessee moves into its new 67,000-seat stadium under construction near the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville in 1999.

Last year, Tennessee was forced to play its home games at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. But after averaging about 24,000 in seven games at Memphis, with the exception of a crowd of more than 50,000 for Pittsburgh, the Oilers decided to play at Vanderbilt University this year.

The Chargers succeeded in shutting down Tennessee's running game, holding Eddie George to 15 yards on 11 carries.

Steve McNair's 15-yard TD pass to tight end Frank Wycheck capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive that gave the Oilers a 7-6 lead with 14 seconds remaining in the first half.

McNair got the Oilers' offense going with a 17-yard pass to tight end Jackie Harris on third-and-9 from the 21, then connected with Joey Kent for a 23-yard gain to the Chargers' 39.

Tennessee used a bit of trickery to keep the march alive as punter Craig Hentrich tossed a 13-yard pass to tight end Jackie Harris on a fake punt. McNair then set up the score with a 6-yard toss to running back Rodney Thomas to the San Diego 15.

However, the Oilers self-destructed with nine penalties for 69 yards while the Chargers' offensive line yielded no sacks.

Tennessee also had an apparent 37-yard TD pass to Yancey Thigpen in the first quarter called back because of a holding penalty.

Fisher offered a myriad of reasons why the Oilers came up short in their home opener.

"These are the reasons why we lost today," he said. "The first one was the penalties. The second one was we couldn't convert on third down. We couldn't run the ball and we could not come up with turnovers on defense."

"The offense never got into any kind of flow," added George. "We shot ourselves in the foot with penalties."

The Oilers started their final posssession at the 20 with 2:31 remaining, but the drive stalled at their own 44 following two first downs. McNair threw four straight incompletions, including a fourth-down pass that was too high for Harris inside the San Diego 40.

The Chargers were able to run out the clock after Means ripped off a 15-yard gain on the first play of the ensuing series.

"San Diego loaded the line of scrimmage," said Fisher. "San Diego won the battle on both sides of the ball. They controlled the line of scrimmage."

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

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