A gamble by San Diego coach Bobby Ross gave the Chargers the NFL's best record.
Quarterback Stan Humphries, left writhing on his back after throwing a key interception, limped back and led the undefeated Chargers on a long drive that ended with John Carney's 33-yard field goal with two seconds left for a 26-24 victory over the Los Angeles Raiders on Sunday.The win gave the Chargers, 8-8 last season, the league's best record at 4-0 and their best start since 1980. The only other unbeaten team is the New York Giants (3-0), who were off this weekend.
The Chargers have won three road games, all against AFC West opponents, and were underdogs in all three. They have a bye next weekend before playing host to Kansas City on Oct. 9.
Lionel Washington's 31-yard interception return capped a 21-point second-half rally by the Raiders and gave them a 24-23 lead with 7:01 remaining. The Chargers then ate up 6:59 on their winning drive.
The Chargers faced a fourth-and-1 from the Los Angeles 32-yard line with a little under two minutes remaining. Then Ross rolled the dice.
Instead of Carney attempting a field goal of nearly 50 yards, San Diego went for the first down and got it on an 8-yard pass from Humphries to Ronnie Harmon.
Ross said he thought Carney could have made a long field goal in that situation, "But I did not want to give them the ball back with so much time left."
While the Raiders (1-3) were celebrating after Washington's interception return, Humphries tried to shrug off an injured left knee suffered when he was hit by Chester McGlockton as he threw the wobbly pass.
But Humphries hobbled back on the field after the Raiders kickoff.
"Humphries was told by the coaches not to come back," Ross said. "But he just went in anyway.
He's got a bruised knee or a sprain, I can't tell you right now exactly what it is."
Humphries admitted afterward that his knee was pretty sore.
"I felt it pop, but I tried to walk it off," he said. "I purposely stayed away from the trainers to try and take care of it myself. I gave up the TD to put them ahead, so there was no way I was staying out."
Carney's third field goal, a 27-yarder with 9:54 left in the third quarter, gave the Chargers a 23-3 lead. The Raiders then battled back.
First, Jeff Hostetler scored on a 1-yard scramble on a fourth-and-goal play to make it 23-10. Hostetler's 24-yard touchdown pass to Rocket Ismail just 3:05 later trimmed San Diego's lead to 23-17 with 3:55 left in the third period.
Humphries, who completed 18 of 26 passes for 191 yards, was intercepted for the first time this season when his long pass was picked off by Terry McDaniel at the Los Angeles 15-yard line in the final minute of the third quarter.
The Raiders then moved to the San Diego 16 before Harvey Williams fumbled and Darren Carrington recovered at the Chargers' 11. Washington made his big interception return four plays later to put the Raiders ahead. But the lead didn't hold up.
"We're all hurting right now," Raiders coach Art Shell said. "We dug a hole for ourselves in the game. We could have easily quit. We didn't. We just couldn't hold up and keep them from getting in field goal territory."
Darrien Gordon's 90-yard punt return in the game's first three minutes put the Chargers ahead 7-0. A 38-yard field goal by Carney and a 1-yard run by Natrone Means extended San Diego's lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter.
Jeff Jaeger's 43-yard field goal put the Raiders on the scoreboard, but Carney added a 24-yarder to make it 20-3 at halftime.
The game was played before a crowd of 55,385 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Chargers have now beaten the Raiders four straight times.