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Leaf Leads Chargers Past Niners


There weren't any apparent opening-night jitters for Ryan Leaf.

The touted rookie quarterback came out poised and led two scoring drives -- capping one with an impressive 3-yard TD pass to Bryan Still on an audible -- and the San Diego Chargers beat San Francisco 27-21 in their exhibition opener Saturday night.

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  • Leaf credited San Diego's rebuilt offensive line and the running game, led by Natrone Means, with helping him through his unofficial debut.

    "It was real easy for me out there because of what the other guys did," Leaf said. "I don't think I can stress that enough."

    Sure, Leaf made a few mistakes, like throwing into double coverage at the goal line -- he still actually drew a pass-interference call on that one -- and not getting off a play in time during the two-minute drill.

    Otherwise, Leaf had a better night than Steve Young.

    The 22-year-old Leaf, taken with the second pick in the April draft and named the Chargers' starter on Wednesday, was 14-of-20 for 116 yards. The hardest hit he took in his two quarters of work was when Bryant Young hit him on the head with his hand, drawing a roughing penalty.

    Leaf had to deal with a faulty radio system in his helmet for the first two series, and partially winged it, with help from his teammates and quarterback coach June Jones, who told him to have three or four plays down pat.

    "I think I made a lot more mistakes than people probably saw, but I had suca great showing by the offensive line and that made things look really good for us," Leaf said.

    "He came in with a lot of poise and control," said R.W. McQuarters, San Francisco's first-round draft pick. "He played exceptionally well."

    Coach Kevin Gilbride said Leaf is not nearly as developed as he needs to be, and is still slow in seeing plays develop.

    But, "You know he throws the ball where your receivers can catch it and he kept it from harm's way."

    San Diego's defense didn't let the 49ers (1-1) across the 50-yard line during Young's four drives. One of the three first downs they got when Young was in came courtesy of a personal foul against San Diego safety Rodney Harrison for a hit out of bounds.

    Young threw just seven passes, completing three for 20 yards and was sacked once, by Marco Coleman.

    Midway through the second quarter, the 6-foot-5 Leaf dropped back a few steps, planted his feet and arched a high timing pass that dropped in over cornerback Darnell Walker to Still, who caught it, got both feet down and fell out of bounds, giving San Diego a 14-0 lead.

    Leaf pumped his fists three times as he ran off the field and congratulated his offensive linemen on the sideline.

    Leaf led a final drive that was capped by Kenny Bynum's 2-yard run for a 21-0 halftime lead.

    McQuarters had a great night. He intercepted Casey Weldon on the first play of the second half and returned it 30 yards for the Niners' first score. He also recovered Weldon's fumble out of the shotgun formation late in the quarter.

    "I like trying to make things happen," he said.

    McQuarters also returned a kickoff 49 yards midway through the third quarter to help get San Francisco across the 50 for the first time in the game.

    Latario Rachal gave the Chargers a 7-0 lead on a 62-yard punt return with 5:19 left in the first quarter. Rachal had a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown in last year's 20-13 exhibition win over the 49ers.

    San Francisco backup quarterback Jim Druckenmiller threw a 4-yard TD pass to Irv Smith in the third quarter. Druckenmiller was 7-of-13 for 71 yards.

    Third-stringer Ty Detmer fumbled on his first play and Van Tuinei recovered on the 49ers 6-yard line. That set up the second of two field goals by John Carney, whose kicks covered 28 and 23 yards.

    Detmer threw a 2-yard scoring pass to Mark Harris with 1:10 left in the game.

    The game marked Means' return to San Diego. He carried 10 times for 26 yards. He was wearing No. 30, apparently not willing -- yet, anyway -- to fork over the reported $20,000 that safety Michael Dumas wants from Means to get his old No. 20 back.

    The Chargers said wide receiver Michael Haynes agreed to a one-year contract after the game.

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