In '82 fashion, S.D. again frustrates Dolphins, 22-21

January 09, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego and Miami have a bookend to go with their classic 1982 AFC playoff game.

The Chargers will proudly display their keepsake, while the Dolphins have another memento to stuff in the back of the closet.

Thirteen years after the Chargers withstood a Miami comeback to win in overtime in the highest-scoring postseason game in NFL history, they sent more disappointment the Dolphins' way. San Diego rebounded from a 15-point halftime deficit to post a 22-21 win in an AFC divisional playoff game yesterday that wasn't decided until Pete Stoyanovich's 48-yard field-goal attempt went wide right with one second left.

"It's as tough a loss as I've ever been around," said Dolphins coach Don Shula, who was denied his 20th postseason victory, which would have tied him with all-time leader Tom Landry. "To have it come apart the way it did in the second half is a bitter disappointment."

Instead of suffering the ignominy of being the lone home team to lose in the divisional playoffs, coach Bobby Ross' Chargers survived the only suspenseful game of the weekend, an affair that featured an assortment of bizarre twists.

Before 63,381, the largest crowd ever to see them play at Jack Murphy Stadium, the Chargers didn't lead until 35 seconds remained, when Stan Humphries threw 8 yards to Mark Seay and John Carney kicked the extra point. Humphries' first-ever touchdown pass in the playoffs came four minutes after his second interception of the day.

The difference turned out to be a third-quarter safety that followed San Diego's third failure to get into the end zone after a first-and-goal.

The Chargers averted their red-zone difficulties on a touchdown that should have been disallowed, as Natrone Means, who gained 139 yards, clearly stepped out of bounds at the 2 on a 24-yard touchdown run.

It evened out, as the officials disallowed a 37-yard touchdown pass from Humphries to Shawn Jefferson, even though it appeared the wide receiver had both feet in.

But on a day of strange twists, perhaps the oddest was that the Chargers in the second half held Dan Marino to 56 yards passing and blanked the Dolphins, after he had carved up their zone coverages on touchdown drives of 79, 52 and 70 yards in the first. The Chargers' ball-control plans came to fruition, as San Diego ran 58 plays to Miami's 16 in the second half, and out-gained the Dolphins 466 yards to 282.

The Chargers will need more of the same next Sunday at Pittsburgh, in their first appearance in the AFC championship game since, of course, 1982, when they were eliminated by Cincinnati.

It's a long way from two years ago, when San Diego was blanked 31-0 in the playoffs at Miami; last season, when the Chargers crowed over a meaningless late-season win over a Marino-less Miami; and the preseason, when they were predicted to finish last in the AFC West.

"I feel good, but we haven't won anything yet," said Leslie O'Neal, the defensive end who wondered last week whether the Chargers were just happy to be in the playoffs.

"So what that we won this game. We've got to get to the AFC championship. We've got to get to the Super Bowl. We won the game, but we're still not where we need to be. We made a lot of mistakes that we need to correct. We need to play the first half like we did the second."

In the first half, the Dolphins solved every blitz, the Chargers secondary was much too soft and the San Diego offense had only two field goals to show for 207 yards and three first-and-goal situations.

"We were stopping ourselves," Humphries said.

The frustration carried over to the second half, which began with San Diego moving 71 yards to the Miami 1, where on fourth down defensive end Larry Webster made Means take a wider angle on a pitch left and safety Michael Stewart and end Marco Coleman ran him out of bounds.

The jeers turned to cheers on the next play, when San Diego defensive tackle Reuben Davis got great penetration and met Bernie Parmalee in the end zone for the safety. It wasn't as good as 21-13, but 21-8 looked good to the Chargers at that point.

After the free kick, San Diego got its first touchdown, the 24-yard run by Means. It made it 21-15 with 2:42 to go in the third quarter.

Marino and the Dolphins could muster only a single first down on their next two possessions, which included a hint of desperation when tight end Keith Jackson attempted an illegal forward pass to Irving Fryar after a 20-yard catch.

San Diego's Darren Carrington recovered the apparent fumble at the Miami 39, but the officials called the rare double-pass, infuriating Ross, who called it "an awful rule that's got to be changed."

The Chargers thought they had gone ahead with five minutes to go when Jefferson beat Troy Vincent in the right corner from the 37, but he was ruled out of bounds. On the next play, Vincent deflected Humphries' pass and Stewart dived to make the interception. Miami again went nowhere, however, and San Diego took over at its own 39 with 3:16 left.

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