- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It was a day for record breaking, for long, lazy passes soaring into the hazy air over the Los Angeles Coliseum, a day of despair and redemption for a beleaguered young cornerback and for a daring defense that set up the game's longest play. And, finally, it was a day for a brutal, punishing infantry assault to overrun an L.A. Raider team that had a chance to step into a tie for the AFC West lead.
The San Diego Chargers, reeling under the weight of three straight losses, which had put them at the bottom of the division, journeyed north on Sunday and hung one on the Raiders 30-23, winning a game that, coach Bobby Ross said, "we simply had to have."
It had been a miserable October for Ross and his Chargers. They were blown out by the Sea-hawks—the Seahawks—on Oct. 3 and were shut down by the Steelers a week later. On Oct. 17 against the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego became fourth-quarter-comeback victim number 27 for a hobbling Joe Montana. The Chargers were 2-4, and people were saying that their AFC West title last year was an illusion, built on a soft schedule and a lot of luck.
"So close," the Chargers' fine defensive right end, Leslie O'Neal, was saying last Saturday. "This game is built on a series of plays where you come so close. A guy lays out to make a catch and he doesn't stretch far enough, and he misses it. A quarterback is two inches off your grasp, and you miss the sack. One thing builds on another, and before you know it, you're 2-4.
"Just once, I'd like to go into a game, or a season, feeling like we don't have to play over our heads to win. You play the Raiders, and the quotes you read from them are 'We'll win if we play Raider football.' No one says that kind of thing about us."
Raider football. A relentless defensive line that attacks the pocket. On Monday night, Oct. 18, L.A.'s last time out before the Charger game, the line was merciless in its treatment of the Broncos' John Elway, sacking him seven times, which gave the Raiders 26 for the season, best in the NFL. Then there's the deep strike, another Raider trademark. Can any team match the speed of this gang of sprinters? Tim Brown; the little-used but still fleet Willie Gault; Alexander Wright, who won the NFL's fastest-man contest in the off-season; Rocket Ismail, down from Canada; and the newest terror, rookie James Jett, whose 29.3-yards-per-catch average has you checking for a misprint.
Jett burned the Broncos for a 74-yard touchdown, and a week before that he had hit the New York Jets for a 42-yard score, so terrorizing the cornerbacks that they had subsequently played way back and allowed quarterback Vince Evans to mount the game-winning drive by throwing underneath the coverage.
And now it was Jeff Hostetler who would burn the Chargers, throwing to a 400-meter relay team that could probably whip half the countries in the Olympics. "Might be a good promotion for the off-season," Ismail said last Friday. "I'd run the leadoff leg and hand the stick to Willie Gault. He'd pass off to Ace [Wright], and then we'd let Jett bring it home."
"Oops, forgot about him," Ismail said. "We'll give him the leadoff leg, and I'll run in the prelims, in the qualifying."