Raiders remain in first, but Chargers pick off everything but a win

December 02, 1991|By Eric Noland | Eric Noland,Los Angeles Daily News

SAN DIEGO -- Exciting stuff. A lot of thrills and chills for the fans. And exactly what the ratings-conscious TV execs love to see.

But will it sell in the playoffs? The Los Angeles Raiders can only hope so.

On an evening when quarterback Jay Schroeder was intercepted three times in the first half, tight end Ethan Horton played as if he had table-tennis paddles for hands, and the most effective offensive play was Nick Bell burrowing into the line, the Raiders needed to block a potential game-winning field goal, recover two fumbles and kick a 53-yard field goal to defeat a team no more threatening than the San Diego Chargers, 9-7, last night at Jack Murphy Stadium.

"It makes it a little more exciting, doesn't it?" said defensive end Scott Davis, who reached up with one huge right hand and swatted down John Carney's 44-yard field-goal attempt with 1:57 left. "I'll tell you what, I'd rather win the other way, by a big margin, though. But I guess whatever it takes to get it done, that's what we'll do. On to the next game."

On to the next three, actually.

Buffalo at home. New Orleans on the road. Kansas City at home to close out the regular season.

The Raiders, who improved to 9-4 with their fourth straight win, held onto their share of the AFC West lead with Denver.

Maybe they looked anything but playoff-caliber in this one, struggling so mightily to edge a team that is now only 3-10. But these Raiders are of the black-and-silver lining mind-set.

They look back at a game like this one and conclude that it speaks well of them -- certainly from the standpoint of perseverance.

"It would be nice to say you could be perfect every game," said Schroeder, who was something less than that, combining 12-of-28 inaccuracy with his three interceptions. "It just doesn't happen.

"It goes back to what we talked about in training camp. It's why we play a 16-game schedule. You have to find a way to win these types of games . . . Tonight we were fighting, scratching and kicking and we found a way to win. Early in the season we weren't doing that."

Even after Jeff Jaeger kicked three field goals, the last a career-best 53-yarder at the end of the half.

Clinging to a precarious two-point lead, the Raiders saw San Diego drive to the L.A. 41-yard line early in the fourth quarter. But on a swing pass from John Friesz to running back Ronnie Harmon, defensive end Greg Townsend sprang to the outside, wrapped up Harmon and forced a fumble that teammate Riki Ellison recovered.

"I thought he was struggling for yards," said Townsend, whose bear hug prevented Harmon from getting to the ball. "I was just holding on."

Back came the Chargers again on their next possession. They actually had the ball in the end zone for a potential winning touchdown, Friesz hooking up with Derrick Walker on a 21-yard pass. But center Courtney Hall was called for holding.

"When I went through the gap, my right leg was up," said defensive lineman Nolan Harrison, "and he just grabbed it and lifted it up. When the flag came down I said, 'Yes!' "

Three plays later, the persistent Chargers lined up the potential game-winning field goal, the 44-yarder. But Davis, who earlier this season blocked a crucial extra-point kick at Denver, crashed in over left guard to block the attempt.

"We have a lot of big guys up front and we just get a push," said Davis. "It's really pretty simple. There's not a lot of secrets to how you get it done."

Duly, the Raiders defense delivered, limiting the Chargers to only 5 offensive yards in the first half -- and no pass completions. The defense also got three turnovers and three sacks on the night.

In the opening two quarters, the Raiders drove to the San Diego 1-, 17-, 23- and 25-yard lines but came away with only nine points.

Why? You had to ask?

Schroeder threw as many interceptions in the first half -- three -- as he had in his worst game of this season, at Kansas City five weeks ago.

"As an offense, we weren't in sync," said Schroeder.

It showed. And now might be a good time to get back to whatever groove they had achieved before.

Or their drive for the playoffs may lack excitement altogether.

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