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Chargers Still at Ground Zero


SAN DIEGO — At the moment, the San Diego Chargers have as many healthy quarterbacks as they do victories.

That would be zero.

Moses Moreno, starting because Jim Harbaugh was injured, suffered a sprained left knee early in the second half Sunday against Miami and the Dolphins held on for a 17-7 victory at Qualcomm Stadium.

Ryan Leaf--making his first appearance since the fourth week of the season--threw an interception on the fourth pass he attempted, then drove the Chargers to their only touchdown before he limped off the field with a strained left hamstring with one minute to play.

That meant Harbaugh, the emergency quarterback, was pressed into service despite a hernia, a strained quadriceps and a bruised hand.

Five plays later, he had a pass intercepted in the end zone to essentially end the game.

Who starts Sunday at Denver is anyone's guess, though any of the three might be available.

Whether it matters is open to debate: They combined to complete 20 of 47 passes for a mere 178 yards and four interceptions, two thrown by Moreno.

The Chargers are one loss from matching their franchise-worst 0-11 start in 1975--and six losses from becoming the first team in NFL history to go 0-16.

"I hope it ends someday," Coach Mike Riley said. "I want to think we can compete well enough and keep going to get over this and win a ballgame and then go on from there. I think we can do that. I think we're very capable of that."

The Chargers looked as if they were the previous three games with Harbaugh at quarterback, losing on late field goals to Buffalo, Oakland and Seattle.

Sunday afternoon, they never looked as if they had a chance.

Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler connected with Oronde Gadsden on the first play from scrimmage for a 61-yard pass play to the six-yard line. Two plays later Lamar Smith scored on a two-yard run.

Fiedler completed his first nine passes and finished 13 for 20 for 160 yards.

The Dolphins (8-2) were a model of efficiency with error-free football, while the Chargers had four passes intercepted, two by Brian Walker, a former Washington State teammate of Leaf's.

Trace Armstrong and Jason Taylor each had a sack, establishing career highs. Armstrong has 12 1/2, Taylor 10.

San Diego squandered a scoring opportunity in the first quarter when John Carney missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt, and Smith scored another touchdown on a six-yard run early in the second quarter to give Miami a 14-0 lead.

Miami got a 35-yard field goal by Olindo Mare in the third before San Diego finally broke through with an eight-yard pass play from Leaf to Fred McCrary with 14:55 left in the game.

Leaf, who completed nine of 21 passes for 92 yards, might start next week after being sidelined because of a sprained wrist.

"We want to do what's best for this team to get a win," Leaf said. "That was Moses this week. If it's me . . . I just want to play, period."

Moreno also completed nine of 21 passes, but for only 67 yards with two interceptions.

Leaf, with his long saga well-known, drew quite a few boos from the announced crowd of 56,896 when he went into the game--and even when he walked off the field injured.

"I don't think that's right," said linebacker Junior Seau, not always a defender of Leaf. "To tell you the truth, I think they were Miami fans. Whoever it is, that's not right."

Leaf didn't seem too bothered.

"It's understandable, being 0-9," he said. "It would be different if we were 9-0."

By the way, that's 0-10 now.

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