SEATTLE — Reality finally barged in on the San Diego Chargers, who have been unreal for eight weeks.
The Seattle Seahawks kicked the Chargers into last year, 34-3, in a game that was not that close.
The NFL's best team at 8-1? The Chargers were outgained, 496-156. Only once in 13 possessions did the Seahawks not reach Charger territory.
A team with an eight-game winning streak? The Chargers had six first downs. From five minutes into the second quarter until five minutes left in the game, they had none.
AFC West leaders? The Chargers gained 17 yards rushing. Seahawk quarterback Dave Krieg gained more than twice that many (35) by himself.
Early Sunday morning, somebody climbed to the Kingdome's third deck, draped a bedsheet across the concrete facing, and in green and yellow felt pen wrote the Chargers a little note: "Wake Up Cinderella . . . It's Midnight And You've Missed The Ball."
"No way anybody in here believes that," Charger guard James FitzPatrick said. "Good teams are going to lose too, you know."
Defensive end Joe Phillips said: "Actually, they beat the hell out of us."
In front of a roaring 62,444, the Seahawks beat them so bad, the fact that Charger Coach Al Saunders couldn't make up his mind about his quarterback didn't much matter.
Mark Herrmann started the game for the injured Dan Fouts, as expected. Herrmann had a decent first half, going 9 of 13 for 101 yards, keeping the team to within 17-3. But two series into the second half, after the Seahawks scored to make it 24-3, in came Fouts, pulled right calf muscle and all.
Fouts lasted the final eight minutes of the third quarter, and eight more minutes of the fourth quarter before giving way to Herrmann again. Fouts ended up 2 of 6 for 15 yards with 2 sacks but claiming he'll be "100%" next Sunday in San Diego against Denver.
"We brought in Dan when we thought we needed a little bit of a start," Saunders said. "Then we brought back Mark late because we wanted to get him some experience in the two-minute drill."
The Seahawks made it tough on both quarterbacks by controlling the ball for 41 minutes 35 seconds. In the third quarter, the Chargers ran just six offensive plays.
"You're kidding me, just six?" asked Charger nose-tackle Mike Charles. "Darn. I knew we were out there just about all day."
The Seahawks (7-3) were inspired. They knew they couldn't afford a loss to the Chargers, who are now 8-2.
"It was the most intense we played all year," said Seahawk quarterback Dave Krieg, who was 19 of 26 for 246 yards. "We played knowing the realization of a loss. We knew what a loss would mean."
Just as the Charger low point was obvious. It was the opening fumble . . . no, maybe it that first Seahawk touchdown . . . wait a second, it had to be the two straight Dave Krieg runs . . . oh, let's check them all off.
How about the opening kickoff? Charger Gary Anderson caught it, carried it a few yards, and then was popped by Seahawk linebackers Fredd Young and Brian Bosworth. The ball squirted out, and was fallen upon by Seahawk Paul Moyer. Four plays later, on a Norm Johnson field goal, the Seahawks led, 3-0.
"I don't know if that set the tone for the game or not," Saunders said. "I do know we didn't come back from it very well."
On the Chargers' first possession, they drove to the Seahawk 44-yard line where, on fourth-and-two, Saunders uncharacteristically decided to go for a first down. The ball was accidentally snapped between Herrmann's legs, bounced off runing back Tim Spencer's hands, ricocheted into first down territory, and was recovered by Charger end Rod Bernstine.
Sorry. Another offensive player other than the ball carrier can not advance the ball. Seahawks take over.
"It seemed like every time on short yardage, just one person was messing up, and that messed all of us up," FitzPatrick said.
On the first play of the second period, John L. Williams caught a swing pass on the Charger eight-yard line. Cornerback Elvis Patterson had him by the legs but he escaped, got past linebacker Billy Ray Smith and runs for the score.
"To the Seahawks I want to say, Merry Christmas," Patterson said.
The Seahawks drove 73 yards in 10 plays for their second touchdown. They were seemingly stopped on third and 3 from the Charger 10, when Krieg throw the ball out of the end zone. But safety Martin Bayless was penalized for grabbing Williams. On the next play, Curt Warner scores on a five-yard run to make it 17-3. Essentially, end of game.
"Right then, the crowd noise began to cover us," Chip Banks said. "Jumped right down on us."