Chargers 32, Cowboys 21

Monday, September 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ For the reason behind San Diego's turnaround from 1-15 last season to 2-0 this season, look no further than the turnover of the roster.

Or, just take a look at the people who made the key plays in the Chargers' 32-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Doug Flutie, who threw for 353 yards and two touchdowns, was in Buffalo last season. Tim Dwight, who caught a 78-yard pass and scored on a 16-yard end-around, came over in a draft-day trade with Atlanta. Wade Richey, who kicked four field goals, including a 43-yarder with 1:09 left to seal the victory, played last season for San Francisco.

And Ryan McNeil, who had two interceptions, including one in the final minutes that set up Richey's clutch kick, was with the Cowboys.

``Things are a lot different around here this year,'' said linebacker Junior Seau, who for 12 seasons has been San Diego's most consistent player. ``That's the difference _ we have a good offense, a good defense and good special teams.''

Two other new faces deserve credit, too: first-year offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who lost his last six games against Dallas when he was Washington's coach; and rookie running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who ran 27 times for 90 yards while playing before 150 friends and family in his home state.

``When I walked out there the first time, I thought, `I can't believe I am here, playing against the Dallas Cowboys,''' Tomlinson said. ``Each week, I'll get better. I'll get more confident.''

The Chargers were so excited about the victory that in the locker room they chanted ''2 and 0! 2 and 0!'' Many NFL teams wouldn't think twice about such a feat, but few have ever been through what San Diego endured last season.

``After all the adversity and negativity from last year, I think guys deserve to celebrate a little,'' said safety Rodney Harrison.

Dallas would surely cheer if it could win two straight. The Cowboys are 0-2 for the second straight season. Before that, they were last 0-2 in 1993 when Emmitt Smith was in a contract holdout. He returned and Dallas wound up winning a second straight Super Bowl.

``That's all I can hold on to, that memory of starting 0-2 and doing what we achieved,'' Smith said. ``This season is long. It's not over yet. It's just the beginning. If we can continue to improve and cut back on our mistakes, we have a good chance of having a heck of a season.''

Smith had Dallas' most memorable moment, breaking a 14-yard run in the second quarter to pass Barry Sanders for second on the career rushing list. He finished with 85 yards, giving him 15,291 yards, 1,435 behind Walter Payton for No. 1.

Dallas quarterback Anthony Wright went 12-of-25 for 193 yards with three touchdowns, three interceptions and a lost fumble. Two of the turnovers helped San Diego take a 17-0 lead.

``I might've been overexcited to play,'' said Wright, making his third career start because rookie Quincy Carter has an injured thumb.

The game also featured a heartwarming pregame ceremony highlighted by 120 police, firefighters, paramedics and military personnel slowly unfurling a flag that covered the entire playing field, goal line to goal line, as ``America The Beautiful'' was played.

At the end of the national anthem, the flag was shaken, prompting fans to wave hand flags they were given. They cheered ``U-S-A!'' when the song ended.

Dallas kept it close with touchdowns passes by Wright of 80 yards to Raghib Ismail, 11 to Wane McGarity and a 7-yarder to Mike Lucky. But Ismail hurt his knee and feared he might have ligament damage.

Notes: At halftime, former receiving great ``Bullet'' Bob Hayes became the 11th member of the Cowboys' Ring of Honor. The 1964 Olympic gold medal sprinter revolutionized his position, forcing the creation of zone defenses after his record-setting debut in 1965. ... McNeil has three interceptions in two games with San Diego, one more than he had last season with Dallas. ... Ismail's TD pass was the longest of his career and the first of Wright's.