The scary thing for the Chargers was that the Raiders' strengths hit them exactly where they were weakest. The offensive line that would have to control the L.A. pass rushers had lost three starters, one by trade, another to free agency and the third, left guard Eric Moten, to knee surgery. Ex-New Orleans Saint Stan Brock, 35, hired for insurance, was now the starting right tackle, and the guy next to him, Joe Milinchik, was plagued by sore knees.
On the other side of the ball, things were just as gloomy. Both of last year's cornerbacks were gone—Gill Byrd to knee surgery and Anthony Blaylock to the Chicago Bears—and their cover linebacker, Jerrol Williams, was out with a shoulder injury suffered against the Chiefs. And here were the Raiders and their let-'er-fly brand of football.
Well, the Charger offensive line held up just fine against L.A., which had only one sack, for three yards. San Diego presented an ever-changing array of formations: sometimes three tight ends and a single wideout; sometimes its regular two-tight-end, two-wideout, one-back set; sometimes three wides or two backs.
Against the Charger defense, though, Hostetler was having a career day. The first pass that left his hand produced a 71-yard touchdown, with Brown on the receiving end and left cornerback Donald Frank stumbling and watching. In the third quarter Brown sprinted away from the pack for 38 yards and a 17-10 Raider lead. Then, a few minutes later, it was Jett's turn. Hostetler launched a nose-up missile, and Jett settled under it 55 yards downfield for a first-and-goal at the Charger five. A running play picked up two, and it was time for a little psychology. In the old days the Raiders would have massed their troops and punched it in, but L.A.'s Achilles' heel this year has been the running game. Raider rushers entered Sunday's game ranked 26th in the league, and they gained only seven yards in the first half against San Diego.
So coach Art Shell sent in three wide-outs, and the Chargers countered with cover jack eight, a zone coverage that used to be an NFL no-no when a team was backed up against its goal line but is standard fare these days. Brown, who had already caught 156 yards' worth of passes, was lined up wide left. He was the responsibility of right cornerback Scan Van-horse. Jett was slotted inside Brown, and staring him in the face was Frank.
Brown slanted inside. Jett cut across the middle, left to right, but instead of trailing him, Frank passed him off to the safeties and broke off to double-cover Brown. "I had a feeling Hostetler would look to Brown," Frank said. "I knew I had to make something happen, to make up for the long one I was burned on."
Hostetler tried to hit Brown on the slant, Frank grabbed the ball in the end zone, and the result was a 102-yard touchdown on the interception. "I don't think Jeff ever saw me," Frank said.
Hostetler's arm would account for 532 yards on the day—424 for the Raiders, breaking by five yards Cotton Davidson's 29-year-old club record, and 108 yards for the other guys (middle linebacker Gary Plummer's interception moments later would account for the other six yards).
What clinched the game, though, was something the Chargers can do and the Raiders can't: hold the ball on the ground. L.A.'s ground game failed early in the fourth quarter when the Raiders had a first-and-goal on the five with San Diego up 27-17. Two runs netted two yards, and then Hostetler threw incomplete as he was hammered by O'Neal. The Raiders had to settle for a field goal.
With 9:55 left to play and the ball on their own 20, the Chargers loaded up with three tight ends and began a 15-play drive, 13 of which were runs. With a fireplug rookie, 5'10", 245-pound Natrone Means, carrying the ball nine times, the Chargers pushed to the L.A. 20 eight minutes later, and John Carney's 38-yard field goal put the game away.