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Chargers Need Carney and a Lot More in Second Half : Pro football: After a 4-4 start, San Diego faces Miami, Kansas City, Denver and Oakland, all but the Broncos at Jack Murphy Stadium, in succession this month.

November 05, 1995|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They could do little wrong a year ago at this time, jumping out to a 7-1 record on the way to making it to the Super Bowl for the first time. But now the San Diego Chargers sit 4-4, confronted by a November death march against the likes of Miami (5-3), Kansas City (7-1), Denver (4-4) and Oakland (6-2).

"We are set up for a better second half," said John Carney, Charger kicker. "We missed a preseason game [canceled because of artificial turf problems], came out of the preseason with injuries and then traveled east a lot.

"Now we play four of our next five games at home. And we don't plan on floundering. We have our sights set on the playoffs. We think we can get there with a 12-4 or 11-5 record."

Last season the Chargers rode Carney's leg hard, relying on his consistency to bail out an up-and-down offense. In the first eight games a year ago, Carney was successful on 22 of 23 field goal attempts. This year he is eight for nine.

With Carney the Chargers were able to put points on the board. With Carney they were able to play to their strength, hogging the ball with running back Natrone Means. And with Carney, who has the fourth best field-goal percentage in NFL history, they could score early. then put the game in the grasp of linebacker Junior Seau and defensive end Leslie O'Neal.

Carney went on to lead the league in scoring with 135 points, connecting on 34 of 38 field goal tries and all 33 PATs.

His lack of activity this season, however, is reflected in the AFC West Division standings.

"I'm a placekicker, not a football expert," Carney said. "I don't know what's going on with this team. I don't see any glaring problem. Once a team gets the momentum going, it can mean a lot.

"We started off 6-0 last year, it was exciting and the city and the nation started paying attention to the Chargers. We struggled at midseason and the naysayers came out, predicting we wouldn't be around for the end of the season. Well, this year we just gave the naysayers a head start."

In trying to right themselves, the Chargers begin with Miami Sunday night in a nationally televised game. History says it's just what the Chargers need:

--A year ago, Dolphin kicker Pete Stoyanovich's 48-yard field-goal attempt with one second remaining in their AFC Divisional Playoff game went wide right, propelling San Diego into the AFC championship game.

--Thirteen years ago, Rolf Benirschke's kick 13 minutes 52 seconds into overtime of an AFC divisional playoff game with Miami boosted the Chargers to a 41-38 victory.

"When Stoyanovich lined up for his kick I watched the snap," Carney said. "I pretty much felt if the snap was good, it was a done deal. The snap was high and I knew he didn't get all of it. You can't put that on Pete's shoulders."

As for Benirschke's kick in the game voted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the "NFL's Game of the '80s," Carney said, "I've heard a lot about it. I didn't see it. I was probably playing soccer on some field at the time."

The next big kick, however, might belong to Carney, who has already made one of the great comebacks in NFL history. Cut by Tampa Bay in 1988, and then cut again by the Chargers in 1990, Carney came back to the Chargers after the fourth game of the 1990 season and now he holds eight team records.

"I wouldn't say a lot of people are making reservations for Phoenix [the Super Bowl site] right now," Carney said. "But we're a different team now and I'm confident we're going to make a strong run in the second half."

ON TV

* RAIDER EXPRESS

Oakland (6-2) at Cincinnati (3-5) Channel 4, 10 a.m.: The Bengals flopped in a push to become contenders last week, now try to excel as spoilers. Raider quarterback Jeff Hostetler, recovering from a larynx injury, has a 101.1 rating on third downs. And that was before playing the Bengals, who rank last in defense in the AFC.

Sore throat alert: The Bengals will be taking dead aim at Hostetler, and this season they have already piled up 25 sacks.

* MIGHTY CAROLINA

Carolina (3-5) at San Francisco (5-3) Channel 11, 1 p.m.: This one should be written off as a mismatch, but then the Panthers have won three games in a row and the 49ers are no better in the standings than the Rams. Big game against Dallas is next week, but the panicky 49ers might press for Steve Young's return from a shoulder injury.

Derrick who? Carolina running back Derrick Moore is on a pace to gain 1,068 yards.

* PARITY BOWL

Buffalo (5-3) at Indianapolis (5-3) Channel 4, 1 p.m.: The Colts in the playoffs? They have won four of their last five games and catch the Bills without wide receiver Andre Reed and running back Thurman Thomas, who are sidelined with hamstring injuries. Before ordering the champagne check on Jim Harbaugh's status. The Colt quarterback has been bothered by a groin injury.

Second chance: Kicker Cary Blanchard is eight for eight in field-goal attempts since joining the team in early October.

* AFL-LIKE FOE

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