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Chargers relegate Broncos to .500 status

10/21/2001

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The San Diego Chargers started the week with a
new defensive coordinator, then opened the second half Sunday
without star linebacker Junior Seau.

Nothing kept them from punishing the Denver Broncos.

The Chargers forced two turnovers in Denver territory in the
second half, both setting up touchdown passes from Doug Flutie to
Jeff Graham, and San Diego took out its frustrations with a 27-10
win over its AFC West rival on Sunday.

The Chargers had been feeling the heat for blowing
fourth-quarter leads in losing their previous two games. After
starting the season with an AFC-best 3-0 record, they were in
danger of dropping to .500.

"We learned from those experiences the last two weeks. I think
it built character," said defensive end Marcellus Wiley, whose
deflection led to a fourth-quarter interception.

Should the Broncos be worried about not making the playoffs?
It's too early to say that. The Broncos need to get their offensive line
squared away -- they've got to protect QB Brian Griese and get back to
running the football.

Denver also needs to play more consistently on defense. The D has given up
too many big plays.

But it all starts up front with the offensive line being solid, keying a
solid running game. That's the Broncos' strength.

ESPN.com NFL analyst Vinny Cerrato has served as director of player
personnel for the Redskins and 49ers.


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"We walked into the fourth quarter this week and I think
everybody was like, 'All right now, no more.' We made that
statement today," Wiley said.

Actually, the Chargers set the tone in the third quarter. With
Seau in the locker room getting treatment for a strained groin, his
replacement, rookie Zeke Moreno, forced a fumble by Mike Anderson
and safety Jason Perry recovered at the Denver 33.

Four plays later, Flutie hit Graham on a 17-yard touchdown pass
for a 20-10 lead with 2:17 left in the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, Wiley tipped a pass by Brian
Griese, and Al Fontenot intercepted at the 38. Five plays later,
Graham had a 20-yard TD catch. He beat second-year cornerback
Deltha O'Neal both times.

"Junior's a great player, and when you lose a player of his
caliber, you have to find ways as players to step it up," Fontenot
said. "We rallied around each other and made plays when we were in
position to make them."

The Chargers (4-2) are a half game behind idle division leader
Oakland.

"If you are really going to do anything in this division, you
have to beat Denver," Chargers coach Mike Riley said.

"We got a win, and that's the best anti-inflammatory," said
Seau, who thinks he'll be OK for next Sunday's home game against
Buffalo. "Big plays really had a big effect on this game. It
turned the game around."

Denver (3-3) dropped into fourth place with its second straight
divisional road loss.

"The AFC West is the toughest division there is and to go on
the road and stink it up like we did today is ridiculous," said
Denver's Rod Smith, the NFL's leading receiver. He had nine catches
for 86 yards Sunday.

Mark Banker got a win in his first game as Chargers' interim
defensive coordinator. He was promoted from cornerbacks coach to
replace Jim Vechiarella, who resigned Monday. Vechiarella, the
linebackers coach, had been calling the defensive signals in the
absence of Joe Pascale, who's had three back operations since late
August.

"We needed to win," Banker said. "We had two tough losses and
we knew we could have won those two games."

Flutie completed 21 of 32 passes for 280 yards and two TDs, with
one interception. Rookie LaDainian Tomlinson, the NFL's
second-leading rusher, was held to a season-low 58 yards on 25
carries.

Griese, who came in with a sore right shoulder, threw two
interceptions and was sacked four times. He was 26-of-41 for 212
yards and one touchdown.

"Right now we have to play a perfect game to win," Griese
said. "We're not a good enough team to overcome some of the breaks
we're given."

It wasn't always pretty for the Chargers, although they got a
huge boost when Ronney Jenkins returned the opening kickoff 88
yards for a touchdown. He slipped a tackle at the 30, turned around
kicker Jason Elam at the 50 and was gone. He's returned two kicks
for touchdowns in his two-year career.

The Chargers got inside the Denver 7-yard line twice in the
first half but had only a field goal to show for it.

The play that hurt came with the Chargers on the Denver 6 with
11 seconds before halftime and no timeouts left, trying to add to
their 13-7 lead. Under pressure, Flutie threw a bad pass off his
back foot and was intercepted in the end zone by Eric Brown.

Earlier in the quarter, the Chargers reached the Denver 2 but
had to take Wade Richey's 21-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.

San Diego pushed it to 13-0 on Richey's 51-yarder with 2:20 left
before halftime, but Denver came back and scored on Griese's 6-yard
pass to tight end Desmond Clark.

Game notes
Chargers CB Ryan McNeil got his NFL-high sixth interception
when he robbed Rod Smith on a long pass in the first quarter. ...
Elam kicked a 45-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.
... Chargers DL Maa Tanuvasa was helped off the field late in the
game and might have a broken bone in his left leg, Riley said. ...
The Chargers have beaten Denver just four times in 13 games since
Mike Shanahan became the Broncos' coach in 1995.