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Week 15 Game Recap: Carolina Panthers 31, San Diego Chargers 7

Carolina Panthers

QB Cam Newton, Pass: 19 - 33 - 231 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 4 - 7 - 0

Newton turned in a rare highlight-free performance in this game, simply playing efficiently and effectively in leading his team to a convincing road victory. Despite the Charger pass defense putting him under pressure most of the afternoon, Newton stood tall in the pocket and looked confident in his passes and footwork. On the rare occasion the Chargers took him down, it wasn't without a fight. On one particular play, he was under heavy pressure and appeared to be getting sacked by the Chargers team picture, only to flip the ball out to RB Mike Tolbert for a nice 13-yard gain. He had earlier come close to connecting with Tolbert for a touchdown near the goal line, but the pass to a wide open Tolbert in the flat was batted down at the line. Which brings up the fact that Newton did catch a couple of breaks and did not play a flawless game. He nearly got intercepted late in the game on a pass over the middle that was just knocked down instead. On an earlier play, he was hit as he threw and the ball popped straight up in the air. Despite landing in the middle of the field, nobody on the San Diego defense was able to get to it. He was also fortunate on the touchdown pass to Williams that the score even happened at all. The pass was initially deflected, but still managed to make its way to Williams (who did the rest, taking off for a 45-yard touchdown scamper). He also took a couple of big hits in the game, one coming on a play on which he nearly scored. A designed draw run play up the middle saw him taken down at the 2-yard line. More importantly, replays showed later on that his knee was being looked at on the sideline and he appeared to be in considerable pain. Backup QB Derek Anderson was seen warming up on the sideline at one point, but Newton remained in the game. Newton later injured his hand, banging it on a helmet as he completed his follow through, but again he remained in the game. WR Steve Smith was Newton's favorite target in the game, and the two connected on a beautiful touchdown late in the game. Smith broke out to the right side of the end zone, and Newton, rolling out of the pocket, placed a ball low and away that only Smith could get to. With phenomenal ball skills, Smith cradles in the pass for the score and Newton's second touchdown of the game. One can safely say that the big Carolina lead actually hurt Newton's chances to put up huge stats, since he threw 27 passes in the first half and just 6 after halftime.

RB DeAngelo Williams, Rush: 22 - 93 - 0, Rec: 2 - 51 - 1 (2 targets)

Right from the outset, it appeared that Williams was going to be heavily involved (he led all players with 24 touches). The first play of the game was a direct snap to Williams, and he was leaned on early and often throughout the game. Williams got some good lanes created by his offensive line, and took advantage by hitting the holes hard and picking up chunks of yardage. In the first half, he took an inside handoff from the 5-yard line and managed to get it right to the doorstep of the goal line (Mike Tolbert finished off the drive with the short touchdown run). Williams did manage to pick up a score on an electric play late in the first half. QB Cam Newton threw a short screen pass to Williams that was deflected at the line. But despite the deflection, the ball still made its way to the intended target Williams, who did the rest. He followed a caravan of blockers downfield for the 45-yard touchdown reception that put Carolina up 21-0 and cut the heart out of the Charger defense. About the only blemish on Williams' day was his second half lost fumble. He dove while trying to stretch out for extra yardage, and just before he hit the ground the ball was punched loose and recovered by the Chargers.

RB Mike Tolbert, Rush: 9 - 40 - 2, Rec: 2 - 24 - 0 (4 targets)

Tolbert, a former Charger, greatly enjoyed his homecoming visit to San Diego. With Jonathan Stewart still sidelined by injury, Tolbert picked up all of the short yardage work. Fortunately for him, there was a decent amount of it in this game. Despite seeing only 11 touches in the entire game, Tolbert scored on a pair of 1-yard touchdowns within the first ten minutes of the game. He used his low and wide frame to bowl over defenders. He very nearly scored on a pass play, but QB Cam Newton had the ball knocked down at the line. Fortunately for Tolbert, he was given the handoff inside the 5-yard line and converted the score. He dove from just inside the 3-yard line and went soaring over the pile while stretching the ball over the goal line for his first touchdown. The second score was much easier, as he simply walked in off of the left tackle for the touchdown. He pushed the pile to bowl over defenders and convert yet another third down on a second half run, but was later seen stretching his calf on the sideline after the play. He would return the game soon after showing no ill effects.

WR Steve Smith, Rush: 1 - 15 - 0, Rec: 6 - 57 - 1 (9 targets)

Smith didn't post overwhelming statistics, but he was by far the biggest weapon for either team's passing game. He went over 1,000 yards for the season on his first catch of the game, even mixing it up with a defender and getting the opponent whistled for an unnecessary roughness penalty in the process. Smith seemed to have a far too easy time getting open considering he was the biggest known threat coming into the game. Late in the first half, he had the ball in his hands in the end zone but lost control as he was hit. As it turned out, it wouldn't have mattered as Carolina was called for offensive pass interference on the play anyway. He was again targeted in the end zone on the very next play, but again didn't come up with the catch. He finally did connect on a score late in the game, diving low and to his left on a bullet pass from QB Cam Newton. Smith somehow kept his hands under the ball and then rolled over while maintaining possession, an excellent display of concentration to cap a solid fantasy performance. Smith added 15 yards on a reverse up the left side off an earlier toss from RB DeAngelo Williams.

WR Louis Murphy, Rec: 2 - 18 - 0 (6 targets)

Murphy started and got two quick catches early, but never really got untracked. He made a nice grab of a laser pass on a quick slant from his own territory despite some tight coverage, and came close to making a few other nice grabs. But he and QB Cam Newton just couldn't connect. Murphy was targeted in the end zone but the ball was thrown too far to the sideline and it fell incomplete out of bounds. He made a nice effort to keep it in the field of play, but the pass was off the mark. He was also targeted on a deep ball in the end zone on third and long late in the half, but again that fell incomplete.

WR Brandon LaFell

LaFell was active as the team's third WR, but held without a catch in the game.

TE Greg Olsen, Rec: 5 - 56 - 0 (9 targets)

Olsen was able to get open almost at will, and one got the sense that if the Chargers could have kept this a game, Olsen would have put up a monster stat line. As it was, nearly all of his damage came in the first half when he worked the sidelines and middle of the field to perfection. Unfortunately for Olsen owners, with the team leading by 21 at the half and 31 by the beginning of the fourth quarter, head coach Ron Rivera kind of took the air out of the ball and looked to a very run-heavy approach with some conservative passes thrown in here and there. It was good for the Panthers, but it was not exactly a formula for huge fantasy passing success.

San Diego Chargers

QB Philip Rivers, Pass: 16 - 23 - 121 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 3 - 4 - 0

This game was pretty much a microcosm of Rivers' entire season. He did complete nearly 70% of his passes, but he averaged just over five yards per pass and couldn't sustain any drives. He was sacked five times, fumbled it four times, and two of the fumbles came on plays where he wasn't even contacted by a defender. The bad signs started early, as Rivers stepped up to throw a pass over the middle. When he started his arm motion going forward, the ball just slipped right out of his hands and was recovered by Carolina. Late in the first half as the Chargers tried to pick up some momentum to carry into the second half, he lost the handle on another one despite once again not even being hit by a defender. Fortunately for Rivers, this time he managed to pick it up himself. The second half feature dmore of the same. Rivers was under constant pressure, getting sacked and then hurried on the team's opening sequence. At times he was little more than a sitting duck in the pocket. He was twice hit by defenders on plays that resulted in sack/fumbles. About the only two times in the entire game where he looked like his old self were on a deep ball down the sideline to WR Malcom Floyd that was completed for a big gain, and another on a corner fade to TE Antonio Gates for San Diego's only score of the game. But if there was any question about whether fantasy owners can trust Rivers the rest of the way, the answer to that question came in the form of a resounding and emphatic "no".

RB Curtis Brinkley, Rush: 6 - 42 - 0, Rec: 3 - 14 - 0 (3 targets)

With Ryan Mathews out of the game with injury, the recently reacquired Brinkley was in line for a much bigger workload. However, the Chargers trailed by several touchdowns for most of the game and so there wasn't really much of an opportunity to do much on the ground. Brinkley did look good in limited work, averaging seven yards per carry. It remains to be seen who will get the lion's share of the rushing duties now that Mathews is expected to miss the rest of the season, but it can be assumed that Brinkley will be a fairly big part of the gameplan.

RB Ryan Mathews, Rush: 4 - 22 - 0, Rec: 3 - 8 - 0 (4 targets)

The nightmarish season continued for Mathews, and in fact his season may have simultaneously ended. Mathews looked pretty good early on, showing a nice burst on a couple of rushes up the middle. He was finding some room inside, displaying some elusiveness that we haven't seen much of so far. In addition to averaging over five yards per carry, he even had some decent involvement in the passing game due to the absence of Ronnie Brown. But despite all the positives, postgame reports are that Mathews reportedly broke his left collarbone early in the game (had had previously broken his right collarbone in the preseason). It is assumed that Mathews will miss the rest of the season.

RB Jackie Battle, Rush: 3 - 2 - 0, Rec: 2 - 12 - 0 (2 targets)

Battle was relegated to short yardage duties in this game. It can be safely assumed that if the Chargers had gotten to the goal line at any point, Battle's name would have likely been called. But they never did get close to a scoring play from that range. With starting halfback Ryan Mathews having injured his collarbone early in the game, the remainder of his season is in jeopardy. With that being the case, Battle's role should certainly increase over the final two weeks.

WR Malcom Floyd, Rec: 2 - 39 - 0 (2 targets)

Along with the rest of the Chargers, Floyd's performance was underwhelming. A lot of it was out of his control, as the deep routes he normally excels at juts weren't there. QB Philip Rivers was under so much pressure that Floyd couldn't really work down the field. He was only targeted twice, and happened to catch both of them. His first reception came along the sideline on a back shoulder pass, and he did a good job reaching around the defender to catch the ball with his hands. The second one was a deep ball down the sideline in single coverage, and he made a tough grab in traffic for a 30-yard gain to at least salvage something for his owners. Floyd did deal with

WR Danario Alexander (3 targets)

The clock struck midnight on Alexander's Cinderella story, as he posted a goose egg in what was the fantasy semifinals for most leagues. He was only targeted three times, drawing a pass interference on one of them but otherwise failing to do anything positive. Early in the game, he dropped an easy one right in his hands when he tried to turn upfield prior to securing the ball and it was all downhill from there.

TE Antonio Gates, Rec: 4 - 31 - 1 (6 targets)

It probably wasn't the way he dreamed it up, but Gates finally tied former Chargers great Lance Alworth as the team's all-time leader in touchdown receptions with 81. The score by Gates came early in the fourth quarter with the team trailing 31-0 and all hope of a comeback already out the window. Still, it was a good sign to see Gates somewhat return to fantasy prominence after a very underachieving season. He had a handful of short catches over the middle, but the team never looked to him for anything downfield or for big plays. And in the second half, he was slow to get up after a reception. He was doubled over and crouching in pain, eventually dropping to a knee and letting the training staff take a look at him. But two plays later, he hauled in that difficult touchdown reception to tie the record. It came on a corner fade, and Gates did a nice job of hauling in the pass over his head and managing to keep both feet inbounds as he reached the corner.

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