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Bolts bottom out with dismal loss to Panthers

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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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'The holidays mean more,' which is why John Wall gives back this time of year

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NBCSW

'The holidays mean more,' which is why John Wall gives back this time of year

Locals who showed up to Bright Beginnings in Southeast Washington last week didn't need to trot all the way up the hill and into the heated tent to see Wizards All-Star John Wall. With icy rain pouring down, Wall stood on the back of a box truck, handing out turkeys to those in need, just days before Thanksgiving.

Wall has long favored charitable causes that hit close to home for him. That includes a backpack and school supplies giveaway in the summer. He himself was once a young kid who showed up to school unprepared.

The holidays used to be a difficult time for Wall, who grew up in poverty in Raleigh, NC. He knows how much it means to simply have a Thanksgiving meal with family and friends.

That connection is why he shows up every year to distribute turkeys, hoping to make the holiday season a little easier on those who need some help.

"The holidays mean more," Wall said. "Thanksgiving, Christmas, they mean more because it's the time where kids are like 'why I ain't get nothing, why don't I have anything under the tree?'

"I know how I was brought up and where I came from. My mom had to work multiple jobs to try to provide for me and my sisters and brothers. It can be a tough time and I'm in the position where I have the opportunity to give back but also be there and be involved."

Wall has worked with Bright Beginnings for years now. The program helps families with young children who are homeless, in shelters or transitional housing.

Wall has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the initiative and lends his time to events like the turkey giveaway. But according to Bright Beginnings executive director Dr. Marla Dean, Wall's involvement doesn't stop there.

"It is always a great day when John stops by," she said. "He's family to us. He comes in, he stops by to check on us. He checks on families. Today is very important because this is a tough season for people who are less fortunate."

Dean said Wall and others gave out 500 turkeys that afternoon. After handing out food, Wall took pictures and signed autographs with children.

This is an interesting time for Wall. His Wizards are struggling and last week tensions boiled over in a now-infamous practice.

Wall stood and surveyed the room at the turkey giveaway, recognizing the cause he was supporting as much bigger than the game of basketball.

"Whatever ups and downs you go through throughout a season is the course of life. But these types of events around the holidays, that's what cheers you up. They're always going through probably more than we are going through," he said.

"When I have an opportunity to put a smile on their face or uplift them through their problems and take that burden off their back, why not do it?"

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Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny helps take down former team in 4-2 win over Blackhawks

Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny helps take down former team in 4-2 win over Blackhawks

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — Michal Kempny tried to say it was just another game, but he could not keep up the ruse. Playing his former team meant too much. 

The Chicago Blackhawks gave up on Kempny last February. He was traded to the Capitals after months in and out of the lineup. He wondered if his time in the NHL was coming to an end. Maybe it’d be better to just go back to the Czech Republic.

Good thing he didn’t. Kempny found a home in Washington and quickly became a top-four defenseman who helped stabilize the blueline and help the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup. The disappointment upon leaving Chicago was behind him. That didn’t make Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks any less weird.  

“It feels really nice. I have to say it wasn’t an easy game for me to play,” Kempny said. “I know a lot of guys from Chicago. I spent almost two seasons there. But big win for me and our team.”

Kempny made sure of that. He scored a goal at 9:28 of the second period – his first of the season – and that proved to be the game winner in a 4-2 victory against Chicago. It wasn’t quite as big as Kempny’s last goal, which came in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 4 against the Vegas Golden Knights, but it meant something nonetheless. 

“It’s huge. After every practice I see him shooting pucks,” teammate and fellow Czech Republic native Jakub Vrana said. “He works on his shot and today it went through for him. Helps his confidence. I bet it feels pretty good.”

Kempny became the second Caps player in two games to score against his former team. At Bell Centre in Montreal on Monday, Lars Eller was being booed by the fans who used to cheer him there. He promptly scored the game-winning goal in overtime to stick it to them. Eller always loves playing the Canadiens, where he never felt he was given a chance. Kempny was more conflicted. Joel Quenneville, Chicago’s coach when he was there and a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks, was fired on Nov. 6. It wasn’t quite as personal. But like Eller he has landed in a good spot. 

“It always adds a little bit of extra fire to guys,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “I thought [Kempny] was skating well. Great to see him get rewarded with a goal there and I thought he had a strong game. Made some good plays at the end, some good blocks, and his skating was a factor, which is always important. I thought he did a good job of breaking pucks out, but he was ramped up for it for sure and then he settled into it and had a real strong game.”

Kempny almost added a second goal with a chance in the slot in the third period at 9:40. He had a tip on goalie Corey Crawford in the second period. It’s all part of the Capitals asking more of their defensemen given a brief lull in their five-on-five play and without key forwards T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who are out with upper-body injuries. 

After the game, Kempny caught up with his former teammates. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews approached in the hallway outside the Chicago locker room and other former teammates stopped by to say hello. 

“I don’t know. It feels a little bit weird,” Kempny said. “The first period I was really excited from the game. After the first I was trying a little bit to settle down and keep playing my game and help my team to win.”

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