Panthers vs. Chargers: Carolina's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 15
As the score indicates, this game was never close. Mike Tolbert produced the first points of the game, as he rumbled into the end zone to give the Panthers a touchdown lead with 8:33 left in the first quarter.
Carolina built upon that momentum and entered the locker room at the half with a 24-point lead.
After Week 15, the Panthers and Chargers are both 5-9 and are mathematically eliminated from the postseason race. Although the Panthers will not make the playoffs, their entire roster is still working hard to ensure that they stand out enough to retain their position with the team.
Each organization will likely undergo coaching and management changes once the season wraps up, but the Panthers were far more focused on this game than the Chargers were.
While each Panthers win hurts their future draft position, it's encouraging to see the team's improved performance as the season has progressed.
When Carolina plays like they did today, an argument could be made that they are one of the most dangerous 5-9 teams in NFL history.
Since the Panthers dominated in each facet of the game, this slideshow will be extremely positive and filled with winners.
Winner: Mike Tolbert
Mike Tolbert made the San Diego Chargers pay for not making more of an effort to re-sign him during the offseason, as the power-back scored two touchdowns from inside the five-yardline.
Outside of his two touchdowns, Tolbert set the tone for the physical Carolina Panthers offense, as they battered the Chargers defense throughout.
Prior to Week 15, Tolbert had only found the end zone twice all season, which was disappointing considering the money that the Panthers invested in him during the offseason. After Week 15, Tolbert's year-end statistics will be more palatable when it becomes time to review his season as a whole.
While Tolbert did not lead the team in rushing, (that distinction belongs to DeAngelo Williams), he did lead the team in yards per rush with an average of 4.4.
Tolbert was also a part of the passing attack, as Cam Newton targeted him four times and connected on two of those attempts.
Overall, Tolbert touched the ball 11 times for 64 yards and was the perfect change of pace for Williams.
This game could not have gone better if Tolbert scripted it, so it's safe to say that he will enjoy the plane ride home.
Winner: Thomas Davis
Thomas Davis continues to play at a Pro Bowl level, as he compiled 10 tackles against the San Diego Chargers. This was the fourth time on the season that Davis accumulated double-digit tackles, and his second in three weeks.
As the Panthers have started winning games, Davis's production has increased, as he has made 28 tackles over the last three games.
Davis played well to preserve the Panthers' big lead, as he was all over the field and made life difficult for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Coming off three ACL injuries to the same knee, it's remarkable that Davis has been able to regain his 2008 form.
With Luke Kuechly playing middle linebacker, James Anderson at strong side linebacker and Davis on the weak side, the Panthers have a solid linebacking corps moving forward. The unit will be get another boost when Jon Beason returns next season.
Winner: Greg Hardy
Greg Hardy became the sixth member in Carolina Panthers franchise history to record 10 sacks in a season, as he crossed that threshold against the San Diego Chargers. In doing so, Hardy has proven to the fanbase that he is player they expected him to be when the organization drafted him in 2010.
Alongside Charles Johnson, Hardy has thrived in regards to rushing the passer. Against the Chargers, Hardy overwhelmed Chargers right tackle Jeromey Clary for two sacks.
Sacks never tell the whole story for a defensive lineman, as various factors play into overall success at the position.
Outside of quarterback sacks, Hardy also hit Philip Rivers twice and made three other tackles.
Hardy was one of the most dominant defensive lineman in the entire league during Week 15, and he has a bright future ahead of him if he builds upon this season.
Winner: Greg Olsen
Greg Olsen is in the midst of a career year, as Cam Newton is very comfortable throwing the ball his way. In fact, Olsen has caught at least one pass in each game this season, which would be a first if he can record a reception in each of the next two games.
Against the San Diego Chargers, Olsen hauled in five passes for 56 yards, as he continues to make his Pro Bowl case.
One of the knocks on Olsen prior to this season was his lackluster run blocking, but he has improved in that regard this season. When asked to stay in to block or to open up holes in the running game, Olsen has been relatively effective.
Olsen worked with the Panthers offensive tackles to neutralize the Chargers' big defensive ends, as San Diego employs a 3-4 defense.
Since the Panthers wideouts leave something to be desired, Olsen has become the team's second option behind Steve Smith.
Olsen has not disappointed, as he leads the team in receiving touchdowns and is second in targets, receiving yards per game and receptions.
Winner: Charles Johnson
Charles Johnson has been labeled as an overpaid player in the past, although that has never been true.
When Johnson began his career with the Carolina Panthers, he was fortunate enough to line up opposite Julius Peppers, who is the franchise's all-time sack leader. When Peppers left the Panthers in free agency, Johnson was left without a partner in crime in regards to rushing the quarterback.
That allowed opposing offenses to game plan around blocking Johnson, although that never really kept him down.
Johnson racked up 11.5 sacks in 2010, nine in 2011 and 10.5 this season.
Are those the numbers of an overpaid defensive end?
They certainly aren't in my opinion.
Johnson sacked Philip Rivers twice in Week 15, as he and Greg Hardy infuriated the San Diego Chargers quarterback all afternoon.
It was not a good day for Chargers left tackle Mike Harris, as Johnson welcomed the rookie to the NFL with a tour de force performance.
Now that Hardy has asserted himself as a dangerous pass rusher, Johnson will see fewer double teams. This has been evident already this season, as has seven sacks in his last eight games.
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