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Chargers Zero In, Win

Pro football: Carney's late 52-yard field goal is difference as San Diego beats Kansas City, 17-16, to end season-opening losing streak at 11.


SAN DIEGO — The roar was real.

Never mind that the drive for John Carney's winning 52-yard field goal was a mere three yards.

Never mind that the San Diego Chargers committed five turnovers, or that Kansas City's quarterback was 44-year-old Warren Moon.

Forget that a penalty against the Chiefs called back a play that would have given them the ball on the San Diego one-yard line.

And erase the memory that the Chargers allowed Kansas City to convert a fourth-and-long situation as the Chiefs tried to become yet another team to defeat the Chargers with a field goal in the final minutes.

The Chargers won.

Repeat, the Chargers won.

The score was 17-16, and the last loyal Charger fans among the crowd of 47,228 Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium roared with relief that the Chargers will not become the first team in NFL history to go 0-16.

The Charger players said all along it wouldn't happen, but weren't those some big whoops when they won?

"When you take your kids and put them to bed and their prayer at night is 'God, please let Daddy win a game,' it's getting bad," linebacker Junior Seau said.

Safety Michael Dumas nodded.

"Mine aren't old enough to rag me yet, so I'll bury the last 11 games," he said.

Six times during their 0-11 start, the Chargers led late in the fourth quarter--only to lose each time.

This time, fans in both teams' local television markets missed the tense finish because the game was preempted for another close finish--the news of the certification of the Florida election vote.

Television switched away shortly after Carney's pressure-cooker field goal with 2:14 left. But the Charger defense forced the Chiefs (5-7) to turn the ball over on downs well out of field-goal range at the San Diego 26 with 1:10 left after a heat-seeking sack by Dumas on third down and an incomplete pass meant for Tony Gonzalez on fourth.

The Chargers went after Moon, sacking him five times--safety Rodney Harrison had two--as they took advantage of a player who has lost much of the mobility that helped him rank third only to Dan Marino and John Elway on several career passing lists.

Moon started instead of Elvis Grbac, who has a sore right index finger, and completed only 12 of 31 passes for 130 yards with one interception.

Not that the Chargers' Ryan Leaf was much better: He completed 17 of 30 for 177 yards and two touchdowns to Freddie Jones, but threw two interceptions.

One of them was returned 24 yards for a touchdown by Marvcus Patton, cutting San Diego's third-quarter lead to 14-13.

The Chiefs--who scored 13 of their 16 points off San Diego turnovers--scored their only unassisted points on a 30-yard third-quarter field goal by Todd Peterson that gave them a 16-14 lead.

But a mistake by the Chiefs on that possession quite possibly gave the Chargers the game.

Running back Tony Richardson was pulled down a yard short of the goal line after an 11-yard run on third and 11, then jumped up and spiked the ball.

A flag flew: Unsportsmanlike conduct--15 yards.

That wasn't the worst of it. Instead of giving him the first down before the penalty, referee Bernie Kukar made it third and 15 from the 16.

"In this league, we have what is known as continuing action," Kukar said. "That simply means [the infraction] is still part of the play. That being the case, we will enforce it from the spot."

Kansas City Coach Gunther Cunningham understood the call, but objected.

"He definitely was past the first-down marker when the foul was called," said Cunningham whose team has lost four in a row to fall to 5-7.

"When the official called no touchdown, he spiked the ball because he was mad and they called a continuation action, which made it third down.

"That play definitely hurt us badly."

Yes, as in three points instead of a likely six or seven.

As in ballgame, because the final margin was one.

Same as the Charger victory total.

"We're 1-0. I'm forgetting the last 11," defensive tackle John Parrella said.

The pressure's off. So is the attention.

"Now we won't get talked about," Leaf said. "An 0-12 team would get a lot of publicity. Now all the media can focus on the playoffs and we'll go back to work."

Leaf--dizzy and groggy after suffering a mild concussion on the interception to Patton--kept playing.

"No way I was coming out of the game," he said.

The go-ahead touchdown came after a mere three-yard drive--one set up by Nate Jacquet's 35-yard punt return.

On came Carney to calmly kick the winner.

"You try not to do anything radical," he said. "Long kicks, you have a tendency to come in fast. You try to maintain your rhythm, strike the ball well."

He hit it, straight and true. But nobody breathed easy until the Chargers got the ball back with 1:10 left and burned the clock.

"You know, I felt real good about it when it hit zero, I'll tell you that," Coach Mike Riley said.



Home Fires Are Doused

After winning 14 in a row at home, the Rams lost their third straight, a 31-24 decision to New Orleans, which is now tied for first with St. Louis in NFC West. D9

McNabb Puts on Big Show

Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb did it all against the Washington Redskins in helping Philadelphia hang on to its lead in the NFC East with a 23-20 win. D9

Jaguars Take Back Lair

Upset by a lack of respect from visiting Tennessee, not to mention mounting losses at home to the Titans, Jacksonville helped itself with a 16-13 victory. D10


Tampa Bay 31: Buffalo 17

N.Y. Jets 17: Chicago 10

Baltimore 44: Cleveland 7

Miami 17: Indianapolis 14

Pittsburgh 48: Cincinnati 28

Oakland 41: Atlanta 14

Denver 38: Seattle 31

N.Y. Giants 31: Arizona 7



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