Panthers eliminate Bolts from playoff picture

Mike Tolbert, Cam Newton and the rest of the Carolina Panthers

came to San Diego with no chance of making the playoffs.

Now the San Diego Chargers are out of the playoff picture, as

well.

Tolbert scored twice against his former team and DeAngelo

Williams turned a tipped pass from Cam Newton into a 45-yard

touchdown reception to lead the Panthers to a 31-7 victory against

the punchless Chargers on Sunday.

Carolina (5-9) won consecutive games for the first time since

last December.

”It’s a great feeling to be able to score the first two

touchdowns back here,” Tolbert said. ”It’s indescribable.”

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

2003, when they were an NFL-worst 4-12. Coach Norv Turner is

expected to be fired at season’s end, most likely along with

general manager A.J. Smith. They will miss the playoffs for the

third straight season.

The Chargers did a face-plant a week after upsetting the

Pittsburgh Steelers 34-24 to remain mathematically, if not

realistically, alive in the playoff picture.

Some of that might have had to do with Tolbert extensively

briefing the defense about his former team.

Also, Panthers coach Ron Rivera was with the Chargers from

2007-2010, first as inside linebackers coach and then defensive

coordinator. Also, Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is

a former Chargers tight ends coach.

”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. ”I think

that helped. I think they had less than 200 yards of offense. Our

defense played great, so it definitely helped.”

Tolbert, who left San Diego as a free agent in March, capped

Carolina’s first two drives with 1-yard scoring runs.

Tolbert leaped over the top of the pile for his first TD to cap

the game’s opening drive, which went 80 yards in 13 plays.

”They don’t think a little fat man can jump but I can

definitely get up,” Tolbert said.

His second TD was set up when Philip Rivers lost a fumble.

Tolbert went in standing up for a 14-0 lead.

Both times he did his TD dance, the Dougie.

”That’s in my nature. I’m a guy that loves to have fun when I’m

playing games, so I’m going to dance regardless,” he said.

”You can’t critique that,” said Newton, who cut his right

index finger just before halftime and twisted an ankle, but said

he’ll be OK. ”He has a wild range of moves in his repertoire. I

don’t think even he knows what he’s going to do.”

Tolbert said his split from the Chargers wasn’t about money.

”Some things happened between myself and the front office that

I’d rather not get into,” said Tolbert, who’s on a long list of

players shown the door by Smith, in danger of losing his job

because of glaring roster deficiencies. ”Let’s say things didn’t

happen the way we thought they were going to happen.”

The running back said he played with ”a whole bag of chips” on

his shoulder.

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. He broke his right collarbone in

the exhibition opener.

”Anytime you know about the personnel it helps you game-plan,

especially on defense,” Rivera said. ”Knowing about Gates,

knowing about Malcom Floyd, knowing about Philip, that was

huge.”

Said Newton: ”It was kind of a gift or a curse to a degree

because there was a lot of familiarity coming into this game with a

lot of coaches on each other’s staff before, knowing what they were

trying to get done. But it came down to the players

executing.”

Rivers lost another fumble in the fourth quarter, his 22nd

turnover this season and 47th in less than two full seasons. He was

sacked six times. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson had two each.

San Diego lost for the eighth time in 10 games, and dropped its

third straight home game.

”I wasn’t thinking about the playoff scenarios,” Turner said.

”When you are not able to handle the things you have to do on a

day-to-day basis or game to game, it’s hard to consider yourself a

playoff team.”

The only bright spot for the Chargers came when Antonio Gates

tied Hall of Famer Lance Alworth’s club record with his 81st career

touchdown catch, a 9-yarder from Rivers with 14:02 left. Gates just

got his second foot down before going out of bounds.

That score was set up when the Chargers got their best starting

field position of the day, on the Carolina 38, when Larry English

recovered Williams’ fumble.

Until then, the Chargers had run only two plays from scrimmage

in Panthers territory, reaching the 44.

Gates’ TD allowed the Chargers to avoid their first shutout

since a 34-0 loss at Kansas City on Oct. 31, 1999, a span of 211

regular-season games.

The Chargers had kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a

34-24 upset win at Pittsburgh a week earlier, but couldn’t get out

of their own way at home.

Newton was 19 of 33 for 231 yards and two touchdowns as the

Panthers followed up their 30-20 upset victory against Atlanta with

their first consecutive victories since beating Houston and Tampa

Bay last December.

Rivers dropped back to pass on the Chargers’ first possession

and the ball flew out of his hand for a fumble that was recovered

by Nate Chandler at the San Diego 21. Four plays later, Tolbert

went in standing up to make it 14-0.

After forcing the Chargers to punt, the Panthers needed six

plays to go 72 yards and take a 21-0 lead. On second-and-10 from

the Chargers 45, Newton’s pass was tipped by Jarret Johnson.

Williams plucked it out of the air and took it all the way in for a

touchdown.

The Panthers piled on with Graham Gano’s 33-yard field goal with

six seconds before halftime and Newton’s 4-yard scoring pass to

Steve Smith midway through the third quarter for a 31-0 lead.

Rivers was 16 of 23 for only 121 yards, his fifth-lowest total

as a starter. San Diego was outgained 372 yards to 164.

NOTES: Turner’s son, Scott, is offensive quality control coach

for the Panthers. … Carolina G Zack Williams injured his knee

during pregame warmups. … Attendance was announced as 53,832 but

there were fewer than that in the 70,000-seat stadium. It was the

third straight TV blackout in Southern California and the fourth

this season. … At 2-5, the Bolts will have their first home

losing record since 2003, when they were 2-6.

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