KANSAS CITY — Game balls were plopped in the laps of Christian Okoye and Paul Palmer here Sunday, two Kansas City rookies who shall now be known as Thunder and Lightning.
Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers--the original lightning bolts--had scoring opportunities plopped in their laps, but did little to take advantage and lost, 20-13.
Palmer scored the winning touchdown, a 95-yard kickoff return with 3:19 remaining. Moments before, the Chargers tied the game, 13-13, on Vince Abbott's 33-yard field goal, but they had had a first down on the Chiefs' five-yard line and could've gone ahead with a touchdown.
Then Palmer untied it.
He fielded Abbott's line drive kickoff, ran gingerly ahead, and then teammate Paul Coffman's crushing block on Daniel Hunter opened the way.
"It was like a wide receiver seeing a deep pass coming toward him," Palmer said. "It was like a linebacker sneaking up on a quarterback from the blindside; it was like a defensive back seeing an interception about to be his . . . All I had to do was run."
Palmer made his mark on one play, while Okoye gained 105 yards in 21 carries, including a 43-yard touchdown run. Okoye is from Enugu, Nigeria, by way of Azusa Pacific, and runs like the wind. It wouldn't be such a big deal, except that he weighs 255 pounds.
It was a simple pitchout to the right, but he waited for tackle Irv Eatman to block Charger defensive end Lee Williams and then watched guard Mark Adickes stampede linebacker Andy Hawkins. Suddenly, Okoye saw a clear field and he ran to it--untouched.
"In the past, I would've run zoooooom!" Okoye said. "I never would've waited for my blocks."
Charger quarterback Dan Fouts threw for enough yards (21 of 39 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown), but not enough points. On his first possession, he overthrew a wide-open Kellen Winslow, and the ball was intercepted by safety Deron Cherry.
Later in the second quarter, his pass in the end zone to Wes Chandler (no catches) was also caught by Cherry.
"If we didn't come out and play as well as we did in the second half, I would be worried," Fouts said.
Trailing, 10-0, at the intermission, Fouts led the Chargers on a long drive. He hit Winslow for a 27-yard gain and then safety Lloyd Burruss was flagged called for roughing the passer.
Tim Spencer's seven-yard run gave the Chargers a first down at the two. Normally, you'd like your chances, but guard Dennis McKnight's false start on second down pushed the ball back to the seven. Cornerback Kevin Ross sacked Fouts from behind and the Chargers settled for Abbott's 32-yard field goal to make it 10-3.
Chief quarterback Todd Blackledge (6 of 15, 79 yards) kept handing off most of the day (the Chiefs rushed for 174 yards), but he connected with receiver Henry Marshall for 19 yards and put the Chiefs in field goal range. Nick Lowery made the 29-yard kick early in the fourth quarter for a 13-3 lead.
The Chargers came to life when a reverse to Lionel James gained 13 yards. Fouts then passed to Gary Anderson on the right sideline. Anderson eluded Albert Lewis, barely kept his feet in bounds and scored on a 34-yard play with 7:37 left.
Trailing, 13-10, the Charger defense got the ball back when linebacker Chip Banks, acquired in the off-season from Cleveland, smacked Blackledge in the arm as he threw, and linebacker Gary Plummer intercepted the wobbly pass at the Chief 30.
The Chargers had a first down at the five after Kevin Ross made illegal contact with Chandler on a pass near the goal line.
Here's how they ended up losing instead of taking the lead:
First down--A pitch right to Anderson, who was tackled for no gain by Dino Hackett on a blitz.
Second down--Burruss blitzed and forced Fouts to throw a wobbly pass over Chandler's head.
Third down--Fouts lobbed a pass to Anderson in the right corner of the end zone and he outleaped nickel back J.C. Pearson and caught it--but the officials ruled he was out of bounds.
"If (Pearson) hadn't pushed me, I would've been inbounds," Anderson said. "Because he pushed me, I thought they'd give me the score."
Fourth down--Abbott made a 23-yarder but tight end Eric Sievers was called for holding.
Fourth down again--Abbott made his 33-yarder.
Kickoff--Palmer went all the way.
With 2:23 left, the Chargers made their final mistake. Blackledge--on second and 9 from his 30--threw a pass that Banks tipped to Danny Walters, but he couldn't hold on for the interception, and the ball fell into the hands of Chief receiver Stephone Paige for a first down.