Panthers 31, Chargers 7

The SportsXchange

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers killed their slim hopes for a playoff berth with one of their worst performances of the season.

Two touchdown passes by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and two rushing scores by fullback Mike Tolbert boosted the Panthers to a 31-7 victory Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

The loss officially ended San Diego's bid for the postseason. It's the third consecutive season the Chargers have missed the playoffs, meaning the job status of head coach Norv Turner, and possibly general manager A.J. Smith, is in serious jeopardy.

The Chargers (5-9) scored fewer than 10 points for the third time this season. They lost 27-3 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 23 and 7-6 to the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 28.

The Panthers (5-9) dominated from the opening kick. They scored on their first three possessions, taking advantage of the Chargers' poor play and ineffectiveness on both sides of the ball, and coasted the rest of the way.

Carolina outgained the Chargers 251-66 in total yards in the first half, limiting San Diego to five first downs. The Panthers finished the half with 20 first downs.

San Diego managed to cross into Carolina territory only once in the half, but the drive ended with a Mike Scifres punt.

The Chargers also got an earful from their fans, who loudly booed them as they left the field at halftime, when the Panthers led 24-0.

The Panthers drove 80 yards in 13 plays on their opening drive. A 1-yard run by Tolbert, a former Charger, gave Carolina a 7-0 lead with 8:29 left in the first quarter.

A fumble by San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, recovered by Carolina defensive tackle Nate Chandler at the Chargers' 21, led to another 1-yard scoring run by Tolbert. The Panthers running back strutted into the end zone with 4:54 remaining in the first for a 14-0 Carolina lead, equaling his season touchdown total in less than one quarter.

The Panthers took a 21-0 lead with 58 seconds left in the quarter. Newton's pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, but he still hit DeAngelo Williams for a short completion, and the running back rambled 45 yards for a touchdown.

Carolina added a 33-yard field goal by Graham Gano with six seconds left in the half.

The Panthers opened the second half with a 56-yard scoring drive. Steve Smith caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Newton, increasing the advantage to 31-0.

San Diego's lone score was set up by a Williams fumble that linebacker Larry English recovered at the Chargers' 38-yard line. Rivers connected with tight end Antonio Gates on a 9-yard touchdown pass with 14:02 remaining in the game. That allowed Gates to tie Lance Alworth's club record of 81 touchdown receptions.

NOTES: Chargers running back Ryan Mathews, who managed 22 yards on four carries, left the game with a shoulder injury in the second quarter and did not return. ... The game was the 100th for Turner as the Chargers' head coach. His record is 57-43. ... The Panthers won for the fourth time in five meetings with the Chargers. They recorded a 26-24 win over San Diego in their previous contest on Sept. 7, 2008. ... The Chargers have dropped three straight games at home. The other setbacks occurred against the Baltimore Ravens (Nov. 25) and Cincinnati Bengals (Dec. 2). ... Ron Rivera served as the Chargers' inside linebackers coach from 2007-08 and as the club's defensive coordinator from 2008-10 before being taking his current job as head coach of the Panthers.
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