Archive for Sunday, November 30, 2003

Chiefs hope to keep momentum rolling against sad-sack Chargers

November 30, 2003

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— This one could get ugly real fast.

The NFL's best team, the Kansas City Chiefs, visits the league's new doormat, the San Diego Chargers, and the stakes are as different as the teams' records.

The Chiefs (10-1) need a win or a tie today, and a loss by Denver at Oakland, to clinch their first AFC West title and playoff berth since 1997. San Diego (2-9) needs a win simply to keep from becoming an even bigger laughingstock.

"It's very exciting, but at the same time, going to the playoffs is not our only goal," Chiefs defensive tackle Ryan Sims said. "We have a different goal in mind -- winning it all. Not to go undefeated or just lose one game, but win it all."

The Chiefs were undefeated until two weeks ago, when they lost, 24-19, at Cincinnati. The Bengals then manhandled the Chargers, 34-27, Sunday in San Diego, a victory that signaled a changing of the guard in the league's basement.

If this game develops anything like the one Sept. 7 at Kansas City did, the Chargers will be in quick trouble.

The Chargers allowed a touchdown run by Priest Holmes just six plays into the season and fell behind 24-0 with more than four minutes left before halftime. The Chiefs scored on five of their first eight possessions and won, 27-14.

Now the Chiefs are on the cusp of their first playoff berth since Marty Schottenheimer still was their coach.

"You have to look back on those days when you were in training camp and those days you were in minicamp and the things you set your sights on," Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson said. "Now when it's within arm's reach, you can't let up at all."

Schottenheimer is in his second season as Chargers coach, and things are a mess on and off the field. The Chargers have lost 16 of their last 20 games and won't have a winning record or make the playoffs for the eighth straight season.

With one more defeat, the Chargers will have reached double digits in losses for the fifth time in the seven seasons.

"I'm as miserable as I've ever been," Schottenheimer said. "This is frustrating."

And now here come the Chiefs, who have one of the NFL's most productive offenses behind Holmes and Trent Green, a one-time third-string quarterback with the Chargers. San Diego's defense, meanwhile, is one of the NFL's most porous for the second straight year.

"They're capable of scoring anytime they have the ball," Schottenheimer said. "What we have to do is manage what we're doing. If we do, we can be competitive."

The Chargers do have a few things going for them. They've beaten the Chiefs four of the last five years in San Diego. And they were the only team in the first five weeks that didn't give up a touchdown by electrifying Dante Hall, whose four returns for touchdowns this season have tied the league record.

"You have to be very judicious with where you punt the ball," Schottenheimer said. "He's great for the league, if you don't have to play him this week."

The Chargers know how big a challenge this is.

"I'm willing to bet that the majority of guys see this as a great opportunity to erase a lot of negativity," said Doug Flutie, who will make his fourth start at quarterback since Drew Brees was benched. "I see it as an opportunity to go out and beat the best team in football right now and prove to ourselves that we can play at that level."

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