Cardinals 16, Chargers 13MEL REISNER , Associated Press
Dec. 27, 1998 8:20 PM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) _ The Arizona Cardinals made the playoffs for the first time in 16 years _ and what an amazing way to get there.
Chris Jacke kicked a 52-yard field goal as time expired Sunday to give the Cardinals a 16-13 victory over the San Diego Chargers, who had tied the game 16 seconds earlier on a fourth-down, 30-yard touchdown pass.
The victory gave Arizona the final NFL playoff spot and set up a meeting at Dallas next Saturday. The Cardinals last made the playoffs in a nonstrike year in 1975. They had a playoff game in 1982, but it was after a nine-game strike season.
Fans in the crowd of 71,670 swarmed the field as soon as Jacke's final kick sailed through the uprights.
He wasn't the only Cardinals hero. Arizona safety Kwamie Lassiter tied an NFL record with four interceptions, all of Chargers quarterback Craig Whelihan. The record was last tied in 1985.
After San Diego's tying touchdown, Eric Metcalf returned the kickoff 46 yards to the San Diego 44, and Jake Plummer had time for one pass, a 10-yard completion to Frank Sanders to the 34. The ball was snapped with three seconds left.
Plummer improved to 9-2 in games in which the Cardinals trailed or were tied in the final quarter during his two seasons with Arizona.
The Cardinals (9-7), whose victory ended Tampa Bay's hopes for the final playoff spot, weren't able to stop San Diego most of the game _ the Chargers had 377 yards in offense. But the Chargers (5-11) stopped themselves.
In addition to Whelihan's interceptions, he had one fumble, which was recovered by Arizona's Simeon Rice. That led to the second of Jacke's three field goals _ a 36-yarder with 2:57 left in the third quarter that gave the Cardinals a 13-3 lead.
But Jacke missed from 45 and 42 yards, the second miss coming with 1:55 to play.
John Carney's second field goal with 9:46 to play reduced the Chargers' deficit to 13-6.
Whelihan then directed a 10-play, 68-yard drive in the final minutes to tie the game. He completed a 24-yard pass to Tremayne Stephens on fourth-and-3, and on fourth-and-20, he threw the 30-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Thelwell with 16 seconds left.
In the first quarter, the Cardinals took a 7-0 lead on Adrian Murrell's 4-yard run.
The Chargers finished the season with a five-game losing streak, due mostly to their NFL-high 51 turnovers, which includes Whelihan's 19 interceptions.
It's the Cardinals' first winning season since 1984, when they were still in St. Louis. Their best in 11 seasons in Arizona had been 8-8 in 1994.