December 20, 2009

1982: Wes Chandler Gains 260 Receiving Yards on Way to 1032 in Short Season

There were many offensive superlatives in the game between the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium on December 20, 1982. In a wild offensive battle, Chargers QB Dan Fouts passed for over 400 yards for the second week in a row (435) while Cincinnati’s Ken Anderson threw for 416. Adding a 66-yard TD on an option pass by San Diego RB Chuck Muncie, the teams combined for an NFL record 883 yards through the air (broken in 1986). The Chargers alone accounted for a franchise-record 661 yards of total offense.

Anderson completed 40 of 56 passes; 9 of them, for 156 yards, went to WR Cris Collinsworth, while another 8 for 81 yards were caught by TE Dan Ross. San Diego TE Kellen Winslow gathered in 6 passes for 116 yards, and RB James Brooks ran for 105 yards on just 12 carries with three touchdowns. The hard-fought game was finally won by the Chargers, 50-34, who scored 33 points in the second half (23 in the third quarter alone).

In the midst of this, WR Wes Chandler caught 10 passes for 260 yards and two TDs, including the option toss from Muncie in the first quarter and a 38-yard catch from Fouts in the third quarter. For Chandler, it was the biggest day in a season in which he accumulated over a thousand pass receiving yards in just eight games.

San Diego was already well-established as a high-flying passing offense prior to ’82. The coming of Head Coach Don Coryell in 1978 and the blossoming of Fouts, who had his first of three consecutive 4000-yard passing seasons in ’79, turned the Chargers into a formidable offensive powerhouse that posed a significant challenge to opposing defenses. When deep threat WR John Jefferson’s contract dispute led to his being traded to Green Bay early in the 1981 season, the Chargers quickly dealt for Chandler, a standout receiver with a poor team in New Orleans.

The San Diego passing game didn’t miss a beat in the transition from Jefferson to Chandler, with the steady Charlie Joiner holding down the other wide receiver spot and Winslow, one of the greatest pass receiving tight ends in pro football history, contributing his share (he led the AFC in receptions three years in a row and the entire NFL once). Chandler caught 52 passes for 857 yards and five touchdowns in the remaining 12 games of the season.

An eight-week player strike shortened the 1982 season to nine games. Chandler had gone over a hundred yards in the opening game at Denver, and had 118 on 7 catches in the first contest following the strike against the Raiders at Los Angeles. He missed the next week with an injury, but then gathered in 7 passes for 125 yards and three scores at San Francisco the week before the Cincinnati matchup.

The 260-yard performance marked the second of five consecutive games in which Chandler went over a hundred yards receiving as he ended up with 1032 on 49 catches for a 21.1-yard average and 9 touchdowns in just half of a normal season of play. He averaged 129 yards a game and led the NFL, naturally enough, in receiving yards as well as TD receptions.

Of course, it was no accident that Fouts (pictured at left) once again had a big year throwing the ball, leading the league for the fourth consecutive season in passing yards (2883) and second straight time in touchdown passes (17). He had the two consecutive 400-yard games, having outdueled San Francisco’s Joe Montana the week prior to the Cincinnati game, 444 yards and 5 TDs to 356 yards and 3 scoring tosses. His passing yardage per game was a career-best 320.3.

The Chargers, having avenged their defeat by the Bengals in the AFC Championship game the previous year, went on to complete the regular season with a 6-3 record. However, as they had in each of the last three postseasons, San Diego came up short in winning the first round over Pittsburgh but losing to Miami in the second stage of the tournament format that was used in place of the usual playoff structure due to the shorter season (the Chargers had been seeded fifth of the qualifying eight conference teams). Cincinnati, with a 7-2 tally, was seeded third and lost to the New York Jets in the first playoff round.

As the games against the 49ers and Bengals suggest, as much as the Chargers could score points, the defense gave up prodigious amounts through the air as well. While the team contended, provided plenty of excitement, and set numerous records through the 1979-82 time period, it was unable to make it to the Super Bowl.