Hawks Get Boot In San Diego -- Chargers Kept From End Zone, But Win 18-12
SAN DIEGO - Before the Seahawks' forgettable loss here last year, a skunk got loose in Jack Murphy Stadium. Seattle followed its lead.
Fifteen minutes before yesterday's kickoff, a hawk flew over the record opening-day crowd of 58,039. While Seattle didn't soar to victory, the hawk represented an upgrade in the animal world.
The Seahawks looked upgraded, too, losing 18-12 as San Diego's John Carney booted six field goals, including kicks of 50 and 51 yards for the defending AFC West champs. Carney's streak of consecutive field goals stands at 22, two off the NFL record.
Although the Seahawks failed to score an offensive touchdown against one of the league's best defenses, there are signs that the team is better and the most obvious one is Rick Mirer.
The rookie quarterback completed 20 of 27 passes for 154 yards and was intercepted only once. The first rookie quarterback ever to start a Seahawk opener scrambled three times for a total of 36 yards, with a long gain of 19.
The Seahawks kept the Chargers out of the end zone and limited them to 269 yards in total offense. The Seahawk defense scored the day's only touchdown as defensive tackle Joe Nash put Seattle ahead 7-0 with a 13-yard interception return of a pass tipped by Cortez Kennedy on the Chargers' first possession.
The disappointed Seahawks said the game isn't a harbinger of the same dismal pattern of no-offense, decent-defense that marked last year's 2-14 campaign that included a 17-6 loss here in Week 5.
"People are going to say, `Oh my gosh, here we go again,' " tackle Andy Heck said. "But we know the truth and that is that this team is not in trouble, but rather this team is building and I feel good about it."
Center Ray Donaldson, a 14-year veteran known for candor, said, "We're going to be all right."
Three plays were critical in the loss: Brian Blades' late-game fumble at the Charger 2-yard line, a 15-yard personal foul on Robert Blackmon and a third-down pass from the end zone by Charger quarterback Stan Humphries.
-- The fumble: Blades fumbled at the San Diego 2-yard line after catching a 7-yard pass from Mirer with 1:25 to play and Seattle trailing 18-10. Linebacker Gary Plummer's helmet popped the ball loose, and Burt Grossman recovered.
"I was trying to fight the ball into the end zone," Blades said. "It was a great hit by Plummer. He hit me directly on my hand. That's no excuse. I should have hung onto the ball."
Had Seattle scored a touchdown, the plan was to attempt an onside kick and try to win with a field goal.
Instead, San Diego ran out the clock and gave up a safety as time expired.
-- The penalty: The 15-yard personal-foul penalty on strong safety Blackmon was for picking up receiver Anthony Miller and slamming him to the ground after a 4-yard catch. The penalty moved the ball to the Seahawk 32 and set up Carney's 51-yard field goal that put San Diego ahead 15-10 with 12:44 left.
"If they want to play touch football, let me know so I can get out of here," Blackmon said.
Said Coach Tom Flores, "You're not allowed to body-slam, so I can't argue with the call."
Blackmon told reporters he didn't know about the rule.
"I never heard of that call in my life," he said.
Informed that the rule existed, he said, "Then I better read the rules. But he (Miller) was still trying to get a first down. I'm trying to help my teammates by stopping him."
-- The escape: Leading only 12-10, the Chargers were pinned at their own 1-yard line early in the third quarter after Michael Bates raced downfield to down Rick Tuten's 38-yard punt.
Jeff Bryant stopped rookie Natrone Means for a near safety on first down and Humphries threw an incompletion on second down.
On third down, Humphries found Miller open 13 yards downfield. The Chargers got another first down, then John Kidd punted 55 yards to get the Chargers out of trouble.
Punt returner Kelvin Martin, a starting wide receiver, suffered an ankle injury making a 7-yard return and didn't play again.
In last year's defeat here, Leslie O'Neal put Seahawk quarterback Kelly Stouffer on injured reserve with a separated shoulder. The 1992 performance was so listless that captain John L. Williams ripped several younger players. No one gave any postgame lectures yesterday.
The effort was there, but some statistics were deficient. The Seahawks finished with 230 yards in total offense and only 89 of it was on the ground. Seattle also converted only one of 10 third downs.
Defensively, the Seahawks gave up 160 yards rushing, with 248-pound Marion Butts gaining 87 of it on 15 carries before leaving in the second half after reaggravating a thigh injury.
Place-kicker John Kasay, who hadn't missed in exhibition games from less than 50 yards, was wide left from 48 yards. The kick, set up by an interception from rookie Carlton Gray, would have given Seattle a 10-0 lead. Early in the second period, Kasay hit a 27-yarder.
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