From the moment the ball was kicked off, Sunday's loss was an ugly one from beginning to end despite a late surge in the second half.
So what went wrong in Carolina?
Plenty, beginning with a nightmare opening quarter in which the Bolts struggled in all three phases.
The Chargers lead the league with seven touchdowns on opening drives this year, but they began the day on a sour note going three-and-out. The offense went downhill from there, finishing the first quarter with 30 total yards of offense on 14 plays including two sacks and one fumble. Even worse, star running back Melvin Gordon was carted off the field not even four minutes into the game with a hip injury and did not return.
"We couldn't do anything early in the game, and we are giving our defense a short field and they were scoring," Philip Rivers said. "They got ahead and then our defense really bowed up in the second half and played well. We had our chances and really fought back into the game, I felt like. We just couldn't get it done."
The offense wasn't the only unit to struggle in the first 15 minutes as a pair of poor punts led to 10 points for the home team. Things only got worse from there as Carolina scored 23 straight points before a late TD pass to Hunter Henry made it 23-7 entering halftime.
To say the least, Head Coach Mike McCoy was disappointed in his team's first half performance.
"Obviously, that was a very poor performance to start the game," he said. "(There were) a number of turnovers, a couple sack-fumbles (and) poor field position for the defense that put them on a short field the whole entire time in the first half…. (A) poor performance by our team."
"Bad execution," added Matt Slauson. "I don't know how exactly it happens. You can't start like that. But the fact is it did happen, and we have to make sure that it never happens again. It was just really bad out there. I thought our defense kept giving us opportunities, but we just had break down after break down. We need to get our stuff together as an offensive line."
Meanwhile, turnovers continued to haunt the Bolts. San Diego entered the day with the most giveaways in the NFL, and they added to that total with three interceptions and a pair of fumbles.
"It's one of those things where those are controllable actions," Antonio Gates said. "We talk about them every single day. That's the formula, and the coaches harp on it every single day. Take care of the football. And then when you come out here, it's not (on purpose). I can tell you that we're not going out there saying we're going to make these turnovers. But it's something we definitely have to clean up. We have the guys in here who can do it."
Perhaps no one was harder on himself than Rivers. Interceptions have especially cost the Bolts in the fourth quarter this season, and the quarterback threw two on Sunday. One came with the Chargers trailing by 10 early in the final frame, while the last came on a desperation heave deep downfield on 4th-and-10 that effectively served as a punt.
Still, those weren't the two plays Rivers lamented the most when reflecting upon the loss.
"There probably were times where I tried to do a little too much today," he admitted. "That hadn't been the case in previous games. I know better than that, but at the same time, I don't want to stand back there and throw balls away and get beat 35-3. It just felt like that was the way it was going. Again, that is no excuse to make some bad mistakes and bad turnovers. But it was a couple decisions I made."
The offense wasn't the only phase in which the Chargers struggled. McCoy pointed to shortcomings in the kicking game, especially the two punts in the first quarter that led to Panthers points.
"A couple (punts) weren't very good today and we had a number of turnovers," McCoy mentioned. "Early on in the game, the one backed up punt put them on the 35…. Our defense was on a short field almost the entire first half."
The defense shouldered blame for the loss as well. The Chargers have been stout against the run all year, ranking fourth in the NFL allowing only 89.1 yards per game. They held nine of 12 opponents to under 100 heading into Week 13 before giving up 126 to the Panthers. Still, it should be noted that Carolina had to run the ball 38 times to reach that total, averaging only 3.3 yards per carry.
Overall, even though they came through with some timely stops as the game moved along, the defense couldn't rebound from a slow start.
"Early on we gave up some big plays with the two touchdowns and some things," McCoy said. "A couple of catches to 88 (TE Greg Olsen) early in the game, we know that's a player they are going to go at. He's a good player."
Finally, San Diego saw a significant number of players leave the game hurt. While the extent of their injuries are unknown at this time, Gordon, Joey Bosa (neck), Craig Mager (elbow, stinger) and Orlando Franklin (ribs) did not return to action after leaving the field.
However, the team stressed having those players go down was not the reason they lost as a number stepped up in their absence. Most notably, running back Kenneth Farrow and cornerback Trovon Reed, who had a clutch interception in the end zone each made his presence felt.
"That's what we're here to do," Farrow said. "Everyone in here goes about their business the right way every day, and we make sure to all prepare like we're going to be the starter."
"I appreciate (the coaches) believing in a kid who just showed up five weeks ago, and putting me out there with the game on the line against a Pro Bowl receiver," Reed added. "I just appreciate the opportunity."