Chargers, Panthers hope 4th quarter struggles behind them

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) There's potential for the fourth quarter of Sunday's game between the San Diego Chargers and Carolina Panthers to be a wild one.

That's because neither team has particularly shown a penchant for finishing games this season.

The Panthers (4-8) have allowed a league-high 138 points in the fourth quarter and have lost five games by three points or less. The Chargers (5-8) have surrendered five fourth-quarter leads and have allowed 122 points in the fourth quarter, second most in the NFL.

''You look at teams and the difference between winning and losing isn't much on a weekly basis,'' Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. ''It more often than not comes down to some play or some drive late in the game that a team makes or doesn't. You have to make those plays and there's a number of close games that we've been in ... for one reason or another we haven't closed games out.''

Neither have the Panthers.

Carolina lost 40-7 to the Seattle Seahawks last week as Cam Newton was benched to start the game because he violated a team rule by not wearing a tie on the team flight. But prior to that blowout, the Panthers lost to New Orleans, Kansas City, Oakland and Tampa Bay on last-minute field goals - two of them as time expired.

They also lost the season opener at Denver when Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal at the end of regulation.

''Cam made a great point the other day when he said, `The hard part, coach, is we didn't really get a chance to come back from some of those because they were last-minute plays,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. ''And I get that. You would love to have the ball in his hands because one of his strengths is the way he runs the two-minute offense.''

Some things to watch in the Chargers-Panthers game:

CAROLINA CONNECTION: This will be a homecoming of sorts for McCoy, who spent eight seasons with the Panthers as an assistant coach and still has strong ties to the organization. McCoy said he and his family still vacation every summer with former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme and his family.

Meanwhile Rivera also worked as an assistant coach with the Chargers from 2008-2010.

BOSA SWAG: The Chargers like the swagger that first-round draft pick Joey Bosa has brought to the team after missing four games following a holdout.

''Once he got going, he's been a guy who's had a big impact for us,'' Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers said. ''You know his demeanor, the guys love him, but his demeanor is what you would think in watching him play. It's a little bit, not cocky, but just kind of like he knows he's dang good. And he trots out there; he expects to be the best guy out there.''

KUECHLY'S STATUS: The Panthers are hoping to get 2103 Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly back this week after he sat out two weeks with his second career concussion. While some have suggested the right call is to hold Kuechly out for the rest of the season with the Panthers a huge long shot the make the playoffs, Rivera said his middle linebacker will play if and when cleared by doctors.

''My response would be that he's a football player,'' Rivera said. ''And if he passes the protocol and he wants to play and the doctors want him to play, he'll play. It's that simple. I don't control the protocol. But I do control the football team, in terms of, `We're going out there to play, we're playing (games) one at a time, we play to win.'''

CHARGERS' UNCERTAINTY: The Chargers are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons, and there's uncertainly about McCoy's future. He is 27-33 in four seasons. There's also a cloud hanging over the franchise as chairman Dean Spanos ponders whether to relocate to Los Angeles following the defeat of a ballot measure for a new stadium.

''I don't think anybody's thinking about that in the fourth quarter. You don't just start thinking about it,'' Rivers said. ''Shoot, I don't give much thought to things I don't know enough about.''

OPENING THE GATES: Chargers star tight end Antonio Gates still needs three touchdown catches to break Tony Gonzalez's NFL record of 111 for the position. Gates hasn't caught a TD pass in two games. He wasn't targeted in a win at Houston two weeks ago, and had only four catches for 37 yards in a home loss to Tampa Bay last Sunday. Rivers and Gates have connected on 82 TD passes, the most in NFL history between a QB and tight end.

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AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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