The resurgent San Diego Chargers, with Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson dovetailing superbly, continued their late push for a playoff spot by crushing the San Francisco 49ers 34-7 on Thursday night.
Quarterback Rivers outplayed his opposite number, Alex Smith, completing 19 of 25 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns, all of them to wide receiver Jackson.
Smith was sacked six times by a tenacious San Diego defense, while throwing for 165 yards and one interception as San Francisco slipped to 5-9 for the season.
The defending AFC West champion Chargers, who opened the season 2-5 after being hamstrung by injuries, special teams mistakes and a rash of turnovers, improved to 8-6.
They now lie a half-game behind the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs and will wind up their regular season on the road against the struggling Cincinnati Bengals (2-11) and the Denver Broncos (3-10).
“We’ve stubbed our toe enough this year,” Rivers told reporters after moving past 4,000 passing yards for a third consecutive season. “We know what we’ve got to do now, we got to just keep winning. It’s playoffs from here on out.”
San Diego head coach Norv Turner paid tribute to his team’s defense after they came close to achieving a second consecutive shutout, having routed Kansas City 31-0 on Sunday.
“I can’t say enough about the way our defense is playing, going seven quarters of shutout football,” he said. “We were about five minutes short of going two games of shutout football. It’s pretty remarkable.”
“Philip was outstanding and obviously Vincent Jackson is a difference maker. He gets singled up and he’s going to make his share of plays. I was really pleased with the entire team,” Turner added.
The Chargers, who had won five of their previous six games, began quickly on a cool evening at Qualcomm Stadium when Rivers threw a bomb on the opening drive to connect with the acrobatic Jackson for a 58-yard touchdown.
It was the first touchdown of the season for the Pro Bowl receiver, who missed 10 games before ending his protracted holdout from the team by accepting a one-year contract tender.
“It’s certainly nice having him back out there,” Rivers said of Jackson. “We felt like we were going to get the opportunity a couple of times tonight to stretch the field and Vince was able to do that.”
Trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter, the 49ers appeared to get a seven-yard touchdown when speedy quarterback Smith dove into the the left corner of the end zone.
However, the play was reversed following a video review after Chargers coach Turner challenged that the ball did not cross the plane.
San Francisco’s woes continued when defensive tackle Justin Smith, after being penalized for unnecessary roughness, was ejected for putting his hands on the referee before a 25-yard field goal from Nate Kaeding put San Diego 10-0 ahead.
With the home crowd thundering its support, Rivers hit Jackson for an 11-yard touchdown to cap a stirring seven-play drive and give the Chargers a commanding 17-0 lead at halftime.
There was no way back from there for the 49ers, whose weary defense was battered early in the third quarter during a 14-play drive before San Diego fullback Mike Tolbert bulldozed his way into the end zone.
Rivers and Jackson again combined for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter before 49ers running back Brian Westbrook earned his team a late consolation by running in for a three-yard score.