TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)—Drew Brees had visions of a storybook San Diego victory to inspire his fire-ravaged community. It didn’t happen. Not even close.
With their home stadium being used as an evacuation center and the nearby hills in flames, the Chargers moved their long-awaited Monday night game 365 miles to the east—and fell flat in a 26-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Brian Griese, in his first start for Miami, completed 20 of 29 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns and the Dolphins intercepted Brees three times.
“You can put this loss on my shoulders,” Brees said.
Griese, at least for one night, lived up to the heritage that his last name carries in Miami. He completed his first six passes and was 13-of-14 for 145 yards and three scores as Miami (5-2) built a 24-3 halftime lead.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families in San Diego. It’s really quite awful what’s going on out there,” Griese said. “Wherever we were going to play this game, we were going to be ready.”
Patrick Surtain had two interceptions, setting up Miami’s first touchdown with the first and stopping a San Diego scoring threat with the second.
Less than 24 hours before kickoff, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue decided to move the game to Sun Devil Stadium because of the deadly wildfires that have devastated the San Diego area.
“Our players did a fantastic job of adjusting to the time, to being in two states in two days, in two different hotels,” Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said. “It was amazing they were able to keep their focus like they did.”
Admission was free, and the place was rocking and rowdy. There was no official crowd count, but all 73,014 tickets were distributed. Five Arizona Cardinals players helped collect donations for the San Diego Fire Relief Fund at the stadium entrance. About $200,000 was collected, Cardinals officials said.
“We really wanted to win, just for the city of San Diego and for everything they’re going through,” Brees said. “Since we couldn’t be out there on the front lines, this was the least we could do.”
The game, San Diego’s first on Monday night since 1996, was supposed to be the celebrated return of Junior Seau, who was the heart and soul of the Chargers for 13 seasons before he was traded to Miami before this season. But the return to Qualcomm Stadium never happened.
Instead, Seau—who still makes his home in San Diego—had to be content with a dominant performance by the Dolphins’ defense.
“We know the community in San Diego is going to pull together,” Seau said. “This game was secondary compared to what’s going on there. It was the hardest game I had to play. I think it goes for everyone, Chargers included. The players there did a great job of blocking things out and coming out here and performing on the field. Obviously, it’s a struggle for all of us.”
Griese signed a free agent by the Dolphins after five seasons in Denver— four as a starter. He knew he would be a backup for a franchise that his father, Bob, led to two Super Bowl championships. They are the first father and son to play quarterback for the same NFL team.
He got the start because of Jay Fiedler’s sprained knee ligament. Fiedler was in uniform for the game, but there was no need for him to try to play. Should Griese be the starter again next week?
“I don’t have any idea,” he said. “I went out there and I played as hard as I could. The outside circumstances that I don’t have any control over, I didn’t really worry about. I’m going to come to practice on Wednesday and continue to get better and see what happens.”
Surtain intercepted Brees’ first pass, on the game’s third play, and returned it 32 yards to the San Diego 6. Two plays later, Griese’s first pass as a Miami starter went 5 yards to Chris Chambers for a touchdown.
On the Chargers’ next possession, Brees’ pass bounced off the hands of LaDanian Tomlinson and was picked off by Zach Thomas, who returned it 19 yards to set up Olindo Mare’s 44-yard field goal that made it 10-0 barely 6 1/2 minutes into the game.
San Diego (1-6) drove from its 30 to the Miami 9 later in the second quarter, but on third-and-6, Surtain stepped in front of David Boston to intercept Brees’ pass in the end zone.
The Dolphins promptly went 80 yards in just six plays. Griese threw 7 yards to Randy McMichael in the right corner of the end zone and it was 24-3 with 1:55 to play.
Miami handed San Diego its lone touchdown when Ricky Williams fumbled and Quentin Jammer recovered for the Chargers at the Dolphins’ 1. Three plays later, Tomlinson scored to cut the lead to 24-10 with 12:21 to play.
Brees, who was sacked six times, was thrown down in the end zone by Rob Burnett. Brees fumbled, and the Chargers’ Damion McIntosh recovered for asafety with 8:06 to play. ^Notes: The Chargers drove inside the Miami 10 three times and came away with nothing. … Boston, who played his first three seasons for Arizona, was booed roundly every time he made a play. … Numerous fights broke out in the stands,and there was a brawl just outside the stadium.