Cam Newton was a pedestrian 10 of 27 for 160 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception for Carolina (5-8), which snapped a two-game losing streak and kept its slim playoff hopes alive. Jonathan Stewart ran for 66 yards and a touchdown and Graham Gano had four field goals.
But it was Carolina’s defense that set the tone early — and later put the game away.
One of those turnovers, a strip-sack by Kawann Short, proved extra costly for the Chargers (5-8). Running back Melvin Gordon, who came in averaging 117.5 yards from scrimmage and had scored 12 touchdowns, was carted off with a hip injury after his left leg twisted under a pile while attempting to recover the loose ball. He did not return.
The Chargers later lost defensive end Joey Bosa to a neck injury.
Rivers, who played at North Carolina State, finished 21 of 39 for 236 yards with three interceptions and two touchdown passes in his return to the Carolinas. He also fumbled twice on sacks.
Despite trailing 26-16, the Chargers seemed to seize momentum briefly with 11 minutes left in the game when Trovon Reed intercepted Newton in the end zone and appeared to take it back 99 yards for a touchdown. But instead of it being a three-point game, officials ruled Reed was down by contact at the 3-yard line before ever got going.
Three plays later, Mario Addison sacked Rivers in the end zone for a safety and the Chargers never threatened again.
BOSA INURES NECK
Bosa, the No. 3 pick in the draft, left in the second quarter with a neck injury after a sack on Newton. Bosa didn’t appear to have his head up as he collided with the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton in the pocket and his neck snapped back.
Cornerback Craig Mager also left in the first half with an elbow injury and did not return.
HE DID WHAT?
Stewart had a highlight reel 20-yard run when he somersaulted over Chargers defender Jahleel Addae, landed on Addae’s ankle with his helmet and somehow kept his balance to pick up another 5 yards.
FINALLY, A WIN VS. WEST
The Panthers got their first win against an AFC West team after losing to Denver, Kansas City and Oakland earlier this season.
Gano was perfect on the day, converting all four field-goal attempts from 23, 41, 44 and 45 yards.