Stan Humphries vs. Dan Marino won’t generate near the hype that Marino vs. Joe Montana did last week.
Still, San Diego’s chances against the Miami Dolphins could ride on Humphries’ right arm. And the Chargers’ quarterback is on one of his good streaks going into Sunday’s AFC divisional-round playoff game at Jack Murphy Stadium.
“It’s a good time now to start getting hot,” Humphries said. “I feel the last two or three weeks or so like I’ve kind of gone back to like it was the first six weeks of the season.”
Humphries was a big reason the Chargers started 6-0. Likewise, he wasn’t immune from a midseason funk that contributed to five losses in eight games.
But he came around in time to lead San Diego to the AFC West title, and now he’s a win away from becoming the first quarterback since Dan Fouts in 1980 and ‘81 to take the Chargers as far as the AFC championship game.
“It’s going to be kind of hard to stop him right now because his confidence is riding high,” receiver Shawn Jefferson said. “I think what he’s trying to do is take the team and just carry it, putting the team on his shoulder.”
This will be the Chargers’ first playoff game since Humphries threw four interceptions in a 31-0 loss at Miami in the divisional round two years ago.
While the Chargers were just happy to be in the playoffs back then, they expect a lot more now.
“If something didn’t happen for us to win this football game, then I don’t think we’d be satisfied at all,” Humphries said. “Sure, we had a great year, we won the West, but hey, we’ve done that before. So that means we didn’t accomplish something better than we did in the past.
“We’ve had a good year up to right now, but it’s not over with.”
Humphries suffered a litany of injuries this year, the main one being a dislocated left elbow in the eighth game. He underwent arthroscopic surgery a month later to remove a loose piece of cartilage.
“Physically, I can’t say that any of the injuries have hampered the way that I’ve played at all,” Humphries said. “If I’ve played bad, hey, I just played bad.”
He didn’t really come around until the second half of a 38-15 loss to San Francisco on Dec. 11.
In the last three games, Humphries completed 65 of 104 passes (62.5 percent) for 866 yards and five touchdowns, with two interceptions. He finished the season with 3,209 yards, 17 TDs and 12 interceptions, and had the AFC’s fifth-highest passer rating.
Just as important, he rediscovered the long ball, throwing TD passes of 60 and 44 yards to Tony Martin in a 21-6 win at the New York Jets on Dec. 18.
“He’s playing so well right now that it’s not a matter of whether he’s going to throw the ball correctly,” Jefferson said, “it’s just a matter of whether whoever he’s throwing to is going to catch the ball.”
The Chargers feel the best way to control Marino is to keep him off the field, but Humphries said they can’t go exclusively with running back Natrone Means.
“You can’t take the football and just say, ‘here Natrone, here it is on first down, second down and third down,’ to keep them off the field,” Humphries said. “You’ve still got to play your whole offense, you’ve still got to gamble with some passes here and there, and play-action and everything.
“You’ve got to be able to put points on the board while you’re keeping him off the field.”
That didn’t happen two years ago at Miami. Humphries was intercepted three times in the second quarter, and Marino answered each with a TD pass.
“You can’t turn the football over and give a guy like Marino a short distance to go,” Humphries said. “I learned the hard way, and in a critical game.”But, said Jefferson, “The difference between that
Stan and this Stan, and that team and this team, is we’ve all matured.”