Dec. 16, 2010
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SANDIEGO (AP) The San Diego Chargers have regained their December swagger,thanks to Vincent Jackson's return and a smash-mouth defense.Jackson caught a career-high threetouchdown passes, Philip Rivers surpassed 4,000 yards passing for thethird straight season and the Chargers beat Alex Smith and the SanFrancisco 49ers 34-7 on Thursday night to stay alive in the AFC Westrace.Jackson reminded the Chargers just what they missed when he sat out 10 games during a nasty contract dispute."Since I've been here, it's like Ihad never left," said Jackson, who had his first three TD grabs of theseason, of 58, 11 and 21 yards."He seems to be in midseason form,"Rivers said. "I feel like he's been here for 15 weeks. That's a creditto the way he practices."The Chargers (8-6) pulled within a half-game of AFC West leader Kansas City (8-5), which lost 31-0 at San Diego on Sunday.San Francisco was probably thetoughest test left for the Chargers, who finish with games atCincinnati (2-11) and Denver (3-10). If San Diego wins out and theChiefs lose once, the Chargers will win their fifth straight divisiontitle.The Chargers came within 4:26 of having consecutive shutouts for the first time in their 51-year history.The 49ers (5-9) could wind up 7-9 and in a three-way tie and still win the NFC West, the NFL's weakest division.
MAIOCCO: Playoff scenarios
Rivers and Jackson came out early in the fourth quarter and the Chargers leading 31-0.Rivers was 19 of 25 for 273 yards,giving him 4,141 for the season. He tied Hall of Famer Dan Fouts' teamrecord set from 1979-81. Jackson had five catches for 112 yards."He and Phil have such a goodrapport," center Nick Hardwick said. "They both know what's going on,and they've studied for hours together. We were expecting him to comein and explode, and that's what he's done. He's a beast. He does thingsother players can't do, and he did it tonight."Unhappy that the Chargers didn'tgive him a long-term deal, Jackson sat out the first seven games. Hethen missed three more games while serving a team-imposed suspension.The move cost him some 3 million in salary.When he returned at Indianapolis on Nov. 28, he pulled a calf muscle two plays in and was done for the night and the next game.On the fourth play from scrimmage,Rivers wound up and threw deep. The 6-foot-5 Jackson slowed down andreached out over 6-foot Nate Clements' head to make the catch at aboutthe 15 before outracing the cornerback into the end zone.Jackson exploited a mismatch against linebacker Takeo Spikes for an easy 11-yard catch just before halftime.Jackson pulled in a 21-yarder earlyin the fourth quarter, getting the ball just past the pylon. The playwas upheld after a review.Mike Tolbert had a 1-yard TD run in the third quarter and Nate Kaeding kicked field goals of 25 and 39 yards.Smith fell far short of having thehappy homecoming he was hoping for. Coming off a promising returnfollowing a five-game absence, he was 19 of 29 for 165 yards with oneinterception and was sacked six times."We wanted it bad," linebackerBrandon Siler said of the shutout that just eluded the Bolts. "We weresaying on the sideline, 'Don't give up anything cheap.' It hurts alittle bit, but I think we already know we're a good defense. We provedthat."San Francisco's only score came on Brian Westbrook's 3-yard run with 4:26 left.The 49ers watched as both a fieldgoal and a touchdown came off the scoreboard in a span of four playsearly in the second quarter.Jeff Reed kicked a 38-yard fieldgoal but San Diego's Antonio Garay was whistled for unnecessaryroughness for trying to gain leverage, giving the 49ers first-and-goalat the 10. Smith scrambled and dove at the left pylon on third down andit was ruled a touchdown. The Chargers challenged and it was reversed,with Smith ruled down inches from the goal line. On fourth down at the1, Siler threw Anthony Dixon for a 2-yard loss."I just read the play and got inthere," Siler said. "I think it takes the energy and the momentum outof a team when you do something like that."Said Smith: "It continued to getone-dimensional for us. When you play a defense of that caliber,they're the No. 1 defense for a reason. They played well."Smith was playing against his hometown Chargers for the first time in the regular season.Michael Crabtree had just threecatches for 17 yards and Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis didn't have acatch until the waning minutes, finishing with one for 4 yards."This team has highs and lows, butif we are fortunate enough to go to the playoffs, I think we deserve togo," 49ers coach Mike Singletary said.NOTES: The Chargers tied the teamrecord for consecutive shutout quarters at seven. ... 49ers DT JustinSmith was ejected after making contact with umpire Garth DeFelicefollowing a play. The lineman was in an argument with at least oneChargers player when he appeared to shove DeFelice, who was trying tokeep him out of the scuffle.