Bolts bottom out with dismal loss to Panthers

There are no more false hopes surrounding the hapless San Diego
Chargers.

Done in by Mike Tolbert, one of the many players authoritarian
general manager A.J. Smith has allowed to leave over the years, the
Chargers were eliminated from playoff contention for the third
straight year in a dismal 31-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers on
Sunday.

The Chargers are bottoming out, and the loss was embarrassing on
so many levels for a team that won the AFC West from 2006-09 and
used to have an adoring loyal fan base.

The Chargers (5-9) clinched their first losing season since
2003.

There were thousands of empty seats at Qualcomm Stadium, the
team’s third straight local TV blackout and fourth this season.

The fans who did show up even booed a public service
announcement on the big screen featuring turnover-prone Philip
Rivers.

Linebacker Takeo Spikes said: ”I think bottom line, we didn’t
show up.”

All that’s left are two games that will help determine the
Bolts’ draft position, and then the expected firing of coach Norv
Turner and likely Smith, as well.

After the Chargers flopped last season, team president Dean
Spanos gave Turner and Smith a reprieve. At the time, Turner said:
”I would expect we’d have to make the playoffs. If we manage
things right and have some good fortune, I imagine we will.”

On Monday, Turner was unwilling to explain why the Bolts have
missed the playoffs three straight years, their longest stretch out
of the postseason since a drought that lasted from 1996-2003.

”I don’t think I’m going to go there,” the coach said. ”Each
year is different. Each season is totally different in terms of the
way they unfolded. We’d be here a long time if we talk about all
the things this team has been through over the last three years and
things I believe that we’ve done well and the things that have
happened that have kept us from being in the playoffs.”

Asked if he’s been given every opportunity to succeed with the
Chargers, Turner dodged that one, too.

”I’m excited about getting ready to go play the Jets. The only
way we’re going to feel better about ourselves is go play well in
New York,” Turner said.

”We did not play the way we’re capable of playing on Sunday. I
thought Carolina played great. I thought we played outstanding in
Pittsburgh. I didn’t think Pittsburgh played very well. It would be
nice to go out and play great when the other team is playing great
and then see how the thing unfolds. That’s where my attention is
right now.”

Before their face-plant against Carolina, the Chargers had
beaten the Steelers 34-24, their first regular-season victory in
Pittsburgh in 15 tries.

San Diego didn’t look ready against Carolina. The Panthers
punched the Chargers in the nose in large part because Tolbert used
to play for them and because Carolina coach Ron Rivera and
offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski used to be on Turner’s
staff.

Tolbert capped each of Carolina’s first two drives with 1-yard
touchdown runs, and did his dance in the end zone.

”Now that the game is over, I can go ahead and say it. I gave a
lot of tips to our defense about their offense, the keys, the
checks, the audibles and stuff like that.” Tolbert said afterward.
”I think that helped. I think they had less than 200 yards of
offense. Our defense played great, so it definitely helped.”

San Diego gained only 164 yards.

Tolbert doubled his touchdown production this season. His two
touchdowns in a span of 3:35 were one more than San Diego running
back Ryan Mathews has this season. Mathews broke his left
collarbone in the second quarter and is done for the season. He
broke his right collarbone in the exhibition opener.

Tolbert said he was shown the door in San Diego much as many
other players have been by Smith, who’s likely to lose his job
because the team’s talent level has plummeted.

”Some things happened between myself and the front office that
I’d rather not get into,” Tolbert said. ”Let’s say things didn’t
happen the way we thought they were going to happen.”

Rivers fumbled four times Sunday, losing two of them. Rivers has
22 turnovers this season and 47 in less than two full seasons.

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