SAN DIEGO – Vincent Jackson reminded the San Diego Chargers just what they missed during a nasty contract dispute.
Jackson had a career-high three touchdown catches, Philip Rivers surpassed 4,000 yards passing for the third straight season and the Chargers beat Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers 34-7 on Thursday night to stay alive in the AFC West race.
The Chargers (8-6) pulled within one-half game of AFC West leader Kansas City (8-5), which lost 31-0 at San Diego on Sunday.
San Francisco was probably the toughest test left for the Chargers, who finish with games at Cincinnati (2-11) and Denver (3-10). If San Diego wins out and the Chiefs lose once, the Chargers will win their fifth straight division title.
The Chargers came within 4:26 of having consecutive shutouts for the first time in their 51-year history.
Jackson had his first three TD grabs of the season, of 58, 11 and 21 yards. Jackson missed the first 10 games because of a bitter contract dispute.
The 49ers (5-9) could wind up 7-9 and in a three-way tie and still win the NFC West, the NFL’s weakest division.
Rivers and Jackson came out early in the fourth quarter and the Chargers leading 31-0. Rivers was 19 of 25 for 273 yards, giving him 4,141 for the season. He tied Dan Fouts’ team record set from 1979-81.
Jackson had five catches for 112 yards.