SAN DIEGO (AP) — 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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