Schottenheimer's restraint holding San Diego back

ON THE NFL

Gameday

November 07, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

There were good finishes (see Kansas City) and bad finishes (that's you, Houston) yesterday in the NFL. Then there was another mystifying Marty finish.

You know, Mr. Ultra Conservative, Marty Schottenheimer, the coach who plays it so close to the vest he needs a respirator by game's end.

Schottenheimer very nearly coached his San Diego Chargers to another come-from-ahead loss in Week 9 in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

After nursing a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter, Schottenheimer watched the New York Jets pull within 28-20. Not to worry. The Chargers promptly drove deep into Jets territory, and with about nine minutes to go, had a chance to seal the deal.

A 6-yard pass from quarterback Drew Brees to fullback Lorenzo Neal gave the Chargers third-and-goal at the Jets' 2. Perfect spot for LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego's do-it-all backfield magician, right? He already had scored four touchdowns, a career first.

Wrong. Schottenheimer went for the element of surprise and called Neal's number again. Neal, who has 18 carries on the season, gained a yard to the 1. Fourth down. Now Tomlinson?

No. Nate Kaeding. Minus the killer instinct, Schottenheimer took the automatic 18-yard field goal and a 31-20 lead with 8:39 left.

The appreciative Jets came roaring back behind quarterback Brooks Bollinger, who had replaced an ineffective Vinny Testaverde in the second half. Laveranues Coles made a spectacular end-line catch for an 8-yard touchdown to make it 31-26. An attempt for a two-point conversion -- to set up a tying field goal -- failed.

But the Jets got their chance for a great finish when Brees was sacked and fumbled the ball away at the San Diego 30 with 3:06 to play.

Bollinger, starter for a day against the Ravens, had Justin McCareins open in the end zone on first down, but McCareins let the pass go through his hands.

Eight plays later, from the 3, Coles muffed a potential game-winning pass in the end zone. And when cornerback Quentin Jammer swatted away a fourth-down pass for McCareins, the Chargers had eluded the hangman.

Afterward, Schottenheimer had this explanation for the field goal from the 1: "I thought about going for it on fourth down; that's why I took the timeout. I felt we needed to get the points at that time. I felt confident in our defense to slow them down. There is an old saying that says, `You never go broke taking a profit.'"

Only, the Chargers are going broke on Schottenheimer's conservatism. They have lost fourth-quarter leads in all four of their losses this season, including when a 40-yard field-goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown in Philadelphia.

The Chargers got bounced out of the playoffs last season when Schottenheimer played for a field goal against the Jets, rather than play aggressively and try to give Kaeding a shorter kick.

So the Chargers reach their bye week with a 5-4 record, the eighth team in a six-team playoff scenario in the AFC. If they don't make it, they'll know where to look.

Schottenheimer didn't deserve to win yesterday. Dick Vermeil did.

It was Vermeil's courageous -- and highly questionable -- call in the final seconds in Kansas City that enabled the Chiefs to beat the Oakland Raiders, 27-23.

The setup: Oakland had erased a 20-9 fourth quarter deficit with two Kerry Collins touchdown passes, the second to Randy Moss with 1:45 left. A two-point conversion gave them a 23-20 lead.

The Chiefs responded with a 72-yard drive, 36 yards on a check-down pass from Trent Green to Larry Johnson to the Oakland 1.

Then, with five seconds left and not only the game but his season on the line, Vermeil opted to go for the game-winning touchdown rather than the safe field-goal call.

Getting a big block by right guard Will Shields, Johnson soared into the end zone and Vermeil into coaching legend.

"When I made that call, wow, was I scared," he said later.

Oakland's finish qualified as the worst of Week 9. But the Houston Texans weren't far behind. They held a 14-7 lead over the Jacksonville Jaguars before surrendering two fourth-quarter touchdowns and a 21-14 decision.

The loss was memorable because defensive tackle Seth Payne was guilty of holding on a running play and the penalty negated a fumble recovery by the Texans. The Jaguars answered with Greg Jones' 12-yard touchdown run to win.

Hot reads

How crazy was Week 9? There were nine road favorites coming into yesterday, and there were eight road winners yesterday. The Indianapolis Colts could make it 9-for-9 tonight.

Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson had fewer turnovers (one) than the Detroit Lions' Joey Harrington (three), and that was the difference in the Vikings' 27-14 win.

Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith had another 100-yard receiving day (five catches, 106 yards, one touchdown) in the Panthers' 34-14 romp over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was his sixth 100-yard game of the season. If he can keep this up, he's the NFL's Most Valuable Player.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' wealth at running back surfaced again. With Jerome Bettis out and Willie Parker struggling, Duce Staley carried 15 times for 76 yards and a touchdown in their 20-10 win over the Green Bay Packers.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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