By BERNIE WILSON, AP Sports Writer
December 29, 2002
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A season that started with such promise ended in utter collapse for the San Diego Chargers.
Denied a playoff spot earlier Sunday, the Chargers were at least within reach of their first winning record since 1995. All they had to do was protect a 14-point lead over Seattle with 8 1/2 minutes left to play on Sunday.
That, too, was rudely ripped away when Matt Hasselbeck led a brilliant comeback that gave the Seattle Seahawks a stunning 31-28 win in overtime.
Hasselbeck scored the tying touchdown on a 1-yard sneak with 1 second left in regulation, and Rian Lindell kicked a 24-yard field goal with 5:02 left in overtime.
``We just kept putting our foot on the throttle, our receivers kept making plays and I think it demoralized them,'' Hasselbeck said.
Did it ever.
Hasselbeck threw for a career-high and team record 449 yards, completing 36-of-53, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one of them on the first drive in overtime. Seattle's 591 yards were the second-highest total ever against the Chargers.
With Hasselbeck suddenly hot, the Chargers blew a 28-14 lead with 8:37 left and lost for the first time in four overtime games this season.
It was a miserable finish for the Chargers (8-8), who started the season 6-1 under coach Marty Schottenheimer but lost seven of their last nine games, including their final four.
They were mathematically alive entering the day, but were eliminated when Cleveland beat Atlanta in an early game.
Then they choked down the stretch, like they have so many times in recent seasons.
``You have to learn how to win ballgames,'' strong safety Rodney Harrison said. ``Right now, we don't know how to finish games. We don't know how to win ballgames toward the end. You have to be able to do that if you want to be a playoff contender.''
Said running back LaDainian Tomlinson: ``It's kind of like a curse, I guess.''
The Chargers have now gone seven seasons without either a winning record or a playoff appearance. Their playoff drought is second only to Cincinnati's 12 straight years out of the playoffs.
``After the start we had, everyone thought we were a lock for the playoffs and getting home field throughout and play for the Super Bowl,'' tight end Stephen Alexander said. ``You still have to go out and play the game. It was a rough second half of the year.''
Seattle (7-9) won its last three games and four of its last six.
Hasselbeck's sneak capped an 88-yard, 17-play drive to send the game into OT.
With leading rusher Shaun Alexander going out with a leg injury on the third play of the drive, Hasselbeck accounted for all the yards by completing 7 of 12 passes for 73 yards and scrambling four times for 19 yards. He was also sacked for a 10-yard loss, and San Diego rookie Quentin Jammer was whistled for pass interference in the end zone two plays before the touchdown.
``I've always believed in him,'' Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said of Hasselbeck, who made nine starts after Trent Dilfer was lost with a season-ending injury. ``I may have made a mistake pumping him up too soon. I think the expectation level may have been too high. He played a great game today.''
Seattle won the overtime coin toss but Hasselbeck was intercepted by Alex Molden. San Diego went three plays and punted, with the Seahawks starting the winning drive at their 48. Hasselbeck had a 21-yard run on third-and-12 to the Chargers 33.
Mike Strong ran the ball five straight times, down to the Chargers 5, to set up the winning kick.
The Chargers are just 5-24 in December since 1996. The Chargers were 8-4 after beating Denver in overtime on Dec. 1, but then lost to Oakland, Buffalo, Kansas City and Seattle.
Tomlinson was held to just 67 yards on 17 carries to finish with 1,683 yards in his second season. He was second in the NFL to Miami's Ricky Williams, who finished with 1,853 yards.
San Diego's Drew Brees was 27-of-49 for 332 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, with one interception. Alexander, a fifth-year pro, had his firstcareer 100-yard game, catching eight passes for 129 yards and a TD.
Chargers Pro Bowl LB Junior Seau missed the game with a sprained ankle. ... Hasselbeck broke his own club yardage record of 427 at San Francisco on Dec. 1. ... Hasselbeck's 36 completions also were a team record, breaking the old mark of 33 by Dave Krieg against Atlanta in 1985. ... Seattle LB OrlandoHuff dislocated his left elbow in the fourth quarter.
Updated on Sunday, Dec 29, 2002 9:46 pm, EST
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