Jan. 09, 1995
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Pete Stoyanovich was set to do to the San Diego Chargers what Rolf Benirschke did to the Miami Dolphins 13 years ago.
In the end, though, another crazy playoff game went right for the Chargers.
Stoyanovich missed a 48-yard field goal with one second left Sunday and San Diego emerged with a 22-21 victory over the Dolphins that sent them into the AFC championship game.
``I couldn't wait for this crowd to have a heart attack when we made that field goal,'' Dolphins tackle Ron Heller said.
But the record crowd of 63,381 at Jack Murphy Stadium went nuts when the kick fluttered badly to the right.
``I didn't watch the kick, I watched the fans' reaction,'' said linebacker Junior Seau, whose season will continue when the Chargers play at Pittsburgh next Sunday for a trip to the Super Bowl.
San Diego defeated the Steelers 37-34 in the final regular-season game, although Pittsburgh had already clinched the home field and rested some injured starters.
Stan Humphries, deprived of an apparent touchdown pass late in fourth quarter on an official's call, threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Mark Seay with 35 seconds left to tie it and John Carney kicked the winning point.
``To go out there and not go as far as two years ago would mean we haven't grown as a football team,'' said Humphries, referring to an embarrassing 31-0 playoff loss at Miami two seasons ago in which he threw four interceptions. ``No one expected us to be here.''
Sunday's game was filled with controversial calls, including an unusual, illegal forward pass penalty on Miami tight end Keith Jackson.
It was 13 years ago that the Chargers and Dolphins played one of the most thrilling playoff games ever.
That day, Jan. 2, 1982, Benirschke made a 27-yard field goal 13:52 into overtime that gave San Diego a 41-38 victory in Miami. Kellen Winslow starred for the Chargers at the Orange Bowl, a game in which Miami rallied from a 24-0 deficit helped by a lateral to Tony Nathan for a touchdown just before halftime.
The Chargers advanced to the AFC title game for the first time since Dan Fouts got them there following the 1980 and '81 seasons. They have never been to the Super Bowl.
San Diego joined four-time Super Bowl winners Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Dallas in the NFL's final four.
The Chargers also blocked what could have been Dan Marino's last realistic shot at getting the Dolphins back to the Super Bowl, which is at Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium.
``I thought we were dead, even after we scored,'' Chargers coach Bobby Ross said.
Sure enough, Marino moved the Dolphins to the San Diego 30 in the final seconds and Stoyanovich _ 8-for-10 between 40 and 49 yards this season _ came on with a chance to win it.
But a high snap seemed to throw off his timing, and Stoyanovich missed badly to the right.
``I stretched my arms out to get (the snap) and I got the ball down as fast as I could,'' said holder John Kidd, a former Charger. ``He's got a strong enough leg to kick it into the seats from there.''
Stoyanovich didn't meet with reporters.
``We saw it going to the right and looked at each other and there wasn't anything to say,'' Kidd said. ``The season was over.''
``I knew we had a chance to hit the field goal,'' Marino said. ``I should have gotten it closer. I should have hit another pass at the end.''
Dolphins coach Don Shula, confined to a cart since surgery on a ruptured Achilles' tendon on Dec. 9, got up and stood on the sideline in concern in the closing moments.
After Stoyanovich missed, Shula sat back down with a chagrined look on his face.
``That's about as tough a loss as I've ever been around,'' Shula said. ``To see a team play as well as we played in the first half ... and then have it come apart the way it did in the second half is a bitter disappointment.''
The Dolphins, bolstered by three goal-line stands, led 21-6 at halftime. But they had the ball for only 7 minutes, 22 seconds in the second half and did not score.
The Dolphins rushed for only 26 yards and had 282 total yards, both season lows. San Diego had a season-high 466 yards.
``We didn't make any plays in the second half,'' Marino said. ``We didn't seem like we were running the ball so well so we decided to throw.
``Anytime you work the whole season and it ends like this, it's hard when you don't achieve your goal. It's tough.''
The Chargers cut the deficit to 21-8 with 6:54 left in the third quarter when Rueben Davis tackled Bernie Parmalee for a safety. That came one play after the ball was spotted on the Miami 1 when San Diego's Natrone Means was stopped on fourth down.
Means ran for a 24-yard touchdown _ even though replays showed he stepped out of bounds on the Miami 2 _ with 4:03 left in the third period.
With 8:43 left in the game, Jackson caught a pass from Marino for a 20-yard gain. As he was being wrapped up, he tossed the ball forward, apparently attempting a lateral to Irving Fryar.
San Diego's Darren Carrington recovered at the Miami 39, but the play was ruled an illegal forward pass. The Dolphins retained possession and were penalized 5 yards and loss of down.
After the Dolphins punted, Humphries moved the Chargers from their 19 to the Miami 37, where he threw to Shawn Jefferson for an apparent touchdown. The official ruled Jefferson out of bounds, but TV replays showed he got both feet in. On the next play, Humphries was intercepted by Michael Stewart at the 24.
The Chargers began their winning drive on their own 39 with 3:16 left. Humphries had passes of 10 and 15 yards to Tony Martin, and Means ran for 1 yard to the 8 on third-and-1.
One play later, Humphries faked the handoff to Ronnie Harmon and rolled right, finding Seay all alone in the right flat for a tie at 21.
The crowd was hushed as Carney kicked the extra point.
``It's kind of a tricky play we run,'' said Humphries.
``When I looked up, it just seemed to take forever for the ball to get there,'' Seay said. ``I was going to catch the ball no matter if there was a diesel truck in front of me.''
The Dolphins began their final drive on their own 38 after the Chargers elected to kick the ball short, and on second down receiver Scott Miller drew a 32-yard pass interference play against safety Eric Castle. After two incomplete passes, Stoyanovich missed the field goal.
The Dolphins won the AFC East with a 10-6 record. San Diego, which got off to the best start in the league at 6-0, won the AFC West at 11-5.
Means gained a career-high 139 yards on 24 carries with one TD. Humphries was 28-of-43 for 276 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.
Marino was 24-of-38 for 262 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and one sack.
Marino, 33, who missed the last 11 games of 1993 with a ruptured Achilles' tendon, has taken the Dolphins to just one Super Bowl, where they lost 38-16 to the San Francisco 49ers a decade ago.
Marino threw TD passes of 8 and 9 yards to Jackson and 16 to Mike Williams.