Another pratfall ends Bolts’ playoff chances

Suffice it to say that Norv Turner didn’t receive a game ball

after this stinker.

On a fittingly glum, misty afternoon, the San Diego Chargers’

slim playoff hopes were extinguished by Mike Tolbert, Cam Newton

and the Carolina Panthers.

Although realistically eliminated weeks ago, the punchless Bolts

finally got the mathematical heave-ho in a 31-7 pratfall

Sunday.

The game was played before thousands of empty seats, and the

crowd at times seemed too indifferent to boo.

Tolbert scored twice against his former team and DeAngelo

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

touchdown reception.

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

last December.

The Chargers (5-9) will miss the playoffs for the third straight

season and clinched their first losing season since 2003, when they

were an NFL-worst 4-12. Turner is expected to be fired at season’s

end, most likely along with general manager A.J. Smith.

A week earlier, team president Dean Spanos presented Turner with

a game ball after the Chargers kept alive their faint playoff hopes

with a 34-24 win against the Steelers, their first victory in 15

regular-season games in Pittsburgh.

Back home, the Chargers simply couldn’t get out of their own

way.

”It’s never easy when you lose,” Turner said. ”Being out

there and feeling like there wasn’t a lot you could do to change

the circumstance, that’s frustrating.”

It was another miserable day for San Diego’s sputtering

offense.

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

total as a starter. He fumbled four times, losing two. He has 22

turnovers this season and 47 since the start of the 2011

season.

San Diego was outgained 372 yards to 164.

”We didn’t execute at a high level and they outplayed us,”

Rivers said. ”When you get down 21-0, it’s hard. We tried to

continue to mix the run. They played us well in the secondary.

”There weren’t a whole lot of places just to go with it quick,

either.”

River was sacked six times.

”The conditions of a bunch of big defensive linemen hitting him

as he was getting in the pocket, the conditions were tough,”

Turner said. ”Our guys had a tough time blocking their guys. Once

you get 14-0, it maximized the matchup in a negative manner and it

was fairly obvious we struggled to do much with that matchup. You

play in their hands in terms of the things we were capable of doing

and we just weren’t able to overcome it.”

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

third straight home game.

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.

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.

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

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

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 left with a shoulder

injury early in the second quarter and didn’t return.

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.

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.

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