CHARGERS 17, PANTHERS 6
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Keenan McCardell took his time getting dressed, carefully buttoning his bright fuchsia shirt and securing his striped tie.
Perhaps he was savoring the moment, thrilled to be part of a team again. Or maybe he was just tired after playing a predominant role in San Diego's victory over the Panthers on Sunday.
"You like my shirt? You think I can pull this look off?" he asked, his smile as bright as the shirt.
He could after pulling in five catches for 65 yards, including two big grabs to set up LaDainian Tomlinson's go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, helping the Chargers equal their win total, four, from a year ago.
"This was the role I envisioned," McCardell said. "When you get into the flow of the game (playing time) really doesn't matter. You just want to compete and do what you can to help the team win."
Acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay on Tuesday, McCardell jumped into San Diego's game plan despite not playing the first six games because of a holdout with the Bucs.
"It is amazing he was able to come in on such a short workload and be able to make the contribution he has," coach Marty Schottenheimer said.
Trailing 6-0 in the third quarter, McCardell had catches of 23 and 18 yards to move the Chargers to the Carolina 8. Tomlinson scored on the next play, giving San Diego a lead it never relinquished.
McCardell helped make Tomlinson's day a little easier after the Panthers stifled him most of the game. Carolina held Tomlinson, who led the AFC in yards from scrimmage with 724, to 47 yards rushing. He also had three catches for 13 yards.
Afterward, Tomlinson said he was bothered by a sore groin.
"I'm struggling a little bit," he said. "But hey, injuries are going to happen. I can't say its worse, but I don't feel any better."
It was a disheartening loss for Carolina. The defending NFC champions have lost four straight and had pointed to this game as one that could turn the season.
"Never in a million years did I think we would be 1-5 at this juncture," safety Mike Minter said. "But it is what it is."