SAN DIEGO — Don Coryell went away last week, and Air Coryell seemed to go with him.
The San Diego Chargers lost a coach and an approach to football when Coryell resigned last Wednesday.
After having lost seven straight games throwing under Coryell, they lost running Sunday under the new coach, Al Saunders, falling to the Kansas City Chiefs, 24-23, on Nick Lowery's 37-yard field goal with seven seconds left.
Saunders had thrown out many of the fancy elements that were staples of the Air Coryell approach. He had to be conservative because Dan Fouts and Mark Herrmann were hurt, leaving Tom Flick as the starter, a role he hadn't experienced since his senior year of college.
The Chargers (1-8) tried to play ball control most of the game with just two healthy runners, Gary Anderson and Tim Spencer. They nearly made it work, despite frequent booing from fans used to a flashier attack. Anderson gained 100 yards and Spencer 61.
After running the ball 47 times and throwing only 12 times, with 2 completions and 3 interceptions, the Chargers changed character in the final two minutes and nearly won in their accustomed manner, passing.
Flick became a different player late in the game, or so he said.
"In the end, it started to flow and got away from being a thought process," he said. "I became a good quarterback. I felt very sure of myself. It irked me the way I threw some balls today, but put me in the same spot again and I won't float that sucker. I'll put some pepper on the tomato."
What the Chargers really needed at the finish were some stuffed tomatoes. It seems their old nemesis--pass defense--survived the change in coaches and beat the Chargers again.
As the Chiefs rallied, the immortal combination of Bill Kenney to Emile Harry teamed for a 5-yard touchdown pass and a 47-yard throw that set up a short scoring run by Mike Pruitt. Those scores helped the Chiefs (6-3) overcome a 16-0 deficit and take a 21-16 lead with 1:46 to play.
Flick, suddenly resembling a quarterback who belonged in a pro football game, completed two passes totaling 33 yards to Wes Chandler as the Chargers advanced to the Kansas City one. Flick then ran a bootleg to put San Diego back in the lead, 23-21.
But there was 1:02 remaining, ample time for Kenney to work on the brittle Charger secondary, particularly cornerback Donald Brown.
Kenney went to Carlos Carson for 18 yards and to Henry Marshall for gains of 16 and 13, sandwiched around a Billy Ray Smith sack, San Diego's seventh of the day.
Kansas City Coach John Mackovic turned the game over to Lowery when the Chiefs reached the San Diego 19.
Earlier, Lowery had missed the first field goal of his career from less than 30 yards when San Diego's Jeff Walker blocked a 29-yard try.
Saunders showed little confidence in the arm of Flick, who threw only eight passes in the first half for a net of minus one yard.
In the first half, Flick completed one throw to a Charger and one to a Chief. Both receivers were in the Kansas City end zone. Chandler caught a seven-yard throw for a touchdown, while Lloyd Burruss intercepted a throw in the end zone.
His first two passes in the second half were intercepted by Kansas City's Albert Lewis.
Despite the limitations on their offense, the Chargers enjoyed a 16-0 halftime lead that easily could have been 30-0.
The first half seemed to be almost a payback for the Chargers' generosity two weeks ago at Kansas City.
The Chargers, who had charitably handed the Chiefs three touchdowns on two interceptions and a fumbled kickoff, were the benefactors this week.
Four Kansas City fumbles led to a 16-0 lead for the Chargers.