Whelihan Experiences Growing Pains In 1St Start

SAN DIEGO QUARTERBACK Craig Whelihan threw two touchdown passes but also fumbled in the Charger end zone. He hopes he played well enough to earn his second NFL start.

SAN DIEGO - The coin was tossed, the officials signaled the Chargers would receive and the game captains shook hands. But before the players separated, Warren Moon, Seattle's 40-year-old quarterback from another NFL generation, approached Craig Whelihan, the Chargers' Generation X quarterback.

Moon patted Whelihan, who was making his first start, on the shoulder pads and said something in his ear.

"He said, `Stay relaxed,' " said the 26-year-old Whelihan, whose brown hair is bleached blond on top.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Whelihan was relaxed at times, throwing two touchdown passes of 10 and 61 yards to Tony Martin. He also looked like a rookie at times, fumbling the ball in the end zone to give the Seahawks a touchdown. Defensive end Michael Sinclair pounced on the ball for a 24-17 lead yesterday in Seattle's 37-31 victory.

"I tried to jump over a guy and got hit from behind, but the ball should have been gone (thrown) by then," Whelihan said. "You can't do that in the end zone."

Whelihan, a third-year pro from the University of the Pacific who was appearing in his third NFL game, completed 17 of 29 passes for 206 yards with one interception to go with his two touchdown tosses.

"One thing I learned today is I need to stay on my reads," he said. "When I felt pressure, I took my eyes off the reads."

Whelihan was pressed into action last week when starter Stan Humphries left the field on a stretcher in the third quarter of a loss to Cincinnati. Humphries suffered his second concussion in 18 days and will miss at least four games.

Jim Everett is the Chargers' usual backup, but he injured his elbow against Kansas City on Oct. 16 when he relieved Humphries after a concussion. With Everett's status unknown, the Chargers waited until Thursday to name Whelihan the starter against Seattle.

"We knew he's a tough kid and he would stick in the pocket," Charger center Raleigh McKenzie said. "He fumbled that one ball in the end zone, but to his credit, he didn't go in the tank. He came back and threw that long touchdown pass. He showed tremendous composure and didn't let mistakes get to him."

Whelihan said he hopes to start again.

"That's up to the coaches," Whelihan said. "I gave it everything I had."