Bolts bottom out with dismal loss to Panthers


Bolts bottom out with dismal loss to Panthers

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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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.