Carolina Panthers' Jonathan Stewart (28) rolls over a San Diego Chargers player in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Mike McCarn
December 11, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) It wasn't long ago when fans in Carolina were wondering when the Panthers were going to generate a consistent pass rush.

Now they lead the NFL in sacks.

The Panthers had five sacks Sunday in a 28-16 win over the San Diego Chargers , giving them 39 for the season and vaulting them past the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos for the league lead.

With starting defensive end Charles Johnson out with a hamstring injury, Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott shuffled his lineup a bit, shifting defensive tackle Kawann Short out to defensive end for a few plays. He also chose some timely blitzes, resulting in two strip-sacks and a safety by Mario Addison, who returned after missing two weeks with an ankle injury.

''I thought he did a nice job,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Short, who finished with four tackles and two sacks. ''He gave us some really good push when we needed it for the most part. We wanted to start out early.''

Things we learned from Carolina's win over San Diego:

RIVERS FLOODING

The matchup of the NFL's fourth-leading passer and 30th-ranked passing defense didn't go as might have been expected.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers turned the ball over five times - three interceptions and two fumbles at Carolina. Rivers' two interceptions pushed him past Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles for the league lead. That makes 10 interceptions in four games, and 12 turnovers during that span.

''I made some throws I probably wouldn't normally make, with all good intentions,'' Rivers said. ''I know that, and I've said over the years, that usually things don't work out well when you do that. Your follow-up question would probably be, `then why would you do it?' I'm just trying to give this team a chance. You feel it getting away, and you make some throws you probably really shouldn't.''

FARROW TAKES OVER AT RB

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon left Sunday with a hip injury, leaving rookie Kenneth Farrow as the primary ball carrier. Gordon, who'd followed a scoreless rookie season last year with 10 TDs rushing through 12 games, left on a cart and didn't return.

Farrow finished with 55 yards on 16 carries.

If the Chargers look outside the organization for help at running back this week among the free agents available are: Toby Gerhart, C.J. Spiller, and Stevan Ridley.

''We're just a team fighting and clawing,'' Rivers said. ''We lose a man or two every week, and every week, and another man or two steps up and fights like crazy.''

STEWART USES HEAD

Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart usually lowers his head to pound out extra yards at the end of runs. On Sunday, he used it to somersault and extend a play .

Stewart, who's scored four touchdowns in the past four games, lowered the boom on Chargers safety Jahleel Addae at mid field, after a 10-yard gain. The hit sprung Stewart head over heels. But his helmet rolled off Addae's cleats rather than hitting the ground. Stewart steadied his roll with his right fist on the ground before rambling for 10 more yards and a 20-yard gain.

''It was awesome,'' Rivera said. ''I saw it the whole way and I was trying to cheer him on. It's kind of neat because Jonathan is a physical player. When he gets rolling, I think it really helps with our mentality.''

The moment wasn't lost on Stewart.

''I'll retweet it and put it on my Instagram,'' he said.

JOSH NORMAN UP NEXT

The Panthers now turn their attention to the long-awaited matchup with Josh Norman and the Washington Redskins next Monday night. The Panthers used the franchise tag on the All-Pro cornerback in the offseason, then rescinded it, allowing him to sign a $75 million deal with the Redskins.

''This week is going to be built up a little more media-wise,'' said Panthers safety Tre Boston, a former teammate of Norman's. ''We're not going to get the chatter that (you expect). It means a lot to a lot of us in here. To have him back, it's going to be like brotherly love. Just like when you try to beat your little brother up, as a big brother when you're little. That's what we'll try to do this week.''

NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo tweeted on Sunday night that he'd asked Norman when his focus would turn to the Panthers.

''Already there,'' Norman was quoted as saying. ''This will be a fun week. They know what time it is.''

KUECHLY UNCERTAIN

Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly had been tracking to play on Sunday, but did not clear the final hurdle in the concussion protocol. He has now missed three games, but the Panthers hope to get him back for the Redskins.

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