"Ever had 300 yards by halftime?" he was asked after the game.
"In college, maybe, but never in the pros," he said.
The score was 23-0 at that point, and the hunt was over. So Schottenheimer, being a man of mercy, called off the hounds. DeBerg threw only three times after intermission, converting two dink passes for 19 yards, but he still ended up with 15 completions in 21 attempts for 331 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. This gaudy showing raised his quarterback rating to a career-high 92.3, but his most impressive stat is his league-low interception ratio—three in 328 throws.
"That's the part I love about him," says Schottenheimer. "The guy simply has not thrown interceptions. When the season started, I frankly didn't know where we were going to be, which is always the case with a team that doesn't have what you'd consider a dominating quarterback.
"I'll tell you when Steve made a believer out of me: against the Raiders in L.A., with the division lead at stake. They'd just come back to tie us in the third quarter, and you could sense the momentum shifting. We've got a first-and-15 on our five, and there's more noise than I've ever heard in the Coliseum. Steve throws the ball to the tight end for a first down. Then he hits Paige on a little inside streak for 22. We run the ball, and then he hits Ste-phone again for about 25 yards. We wound up kicking a field goal, and it shut the crowd up.
"Steve threw for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but then they drove for a TD that put them down by three. We held the ball for the last four minutes and change to win it. On one third-down play we simply had to have the completion, and Steve gave it to us. At that point I was thinking, You know, I've got a pretty tough quarterback here."
So is it a mirage, this late emergence of DeBerg, who ranks seventh among NFL passers in 1990, or is he for real? "Last year was difficult on me," says DeBerg. "It was Marty's first year as coach, and everything had to be proven to him. He didn't want to hear what anyone had done in the past. It took him awhile to figure me out, my ability, my personality, the whole package. I was benched twice; I was the starter three different times. It was frustrating.
"Marty's very competitive. When we weren't winning early in the season, someone's head had to roll, and it turned out to be mine. But you know, there really isn't a whole lot of difference between my performance then and now. The difference is in our entire offense.
"For me to perform best, I need teammates who are thoroughly in tune with the system. I'm not a great improviser; I don't make a lot of plays out of nothing, the way some quarterbacks do. What I excel at is executing a good play at the snap. Not scrambling, but executing the play and making it work. It's taken half a year for everything to fall into place with our offense, but now we've won four out of our last five, and we know what we're doing."
For six years, including five with the Cleveland Browns, Schottenheimer's trademark as an NFL coach was a conservative, ground-oriented attack. He has never had a losing season. This year, though, he turned the offense over to Joe Pendry, a USFL graduate who was on Schottenheimer's staff in Cleveland, and sparks have been flying—such as a 90-yard TD pass on the third play against the Chargers and the long-ball madness at the start of Sunday's game.