SAN DIEGO — Vincent Jackson reminded the Chargers just what they missed during a nasty contract dispute.
Jackson had a career-high three touchdown catches, Philip Rivers topped 4,000 yards passing for the third straight season and the Chargers beat the 49ers 34-7 Thursday night to stay alive in the AFC West race.
The Chargers (8-6) pulled within a half-game of Kansas City, which lost 31-0 at San Diego last weekend and visits the Rams on Sunday. The Chargers finish with games at the Bengals and Broncos. If San Diego wins out and the Chiefs lose once, the Chargers will win their fifth straight division title.
San Diego got within 4:26 of having consecutive shutouts for the first time in its 51-year history.
"We wanted (the shutout) bad," linebacker Brandon Siler. "We were saying on the sideline, 'Don't give up anything cheap.' It hurts a little bit, but I think we already know we're a good defense. We proved that."
Jackson had his first three TDs of the season, of 58, 11 and 21 yards. He held out for 10 games then left his Nov. 28 debut early with a calf strain.
The 49ers (5-9) could wind up 7-9 and in a three-way tie and still win the NFC West.
Niners defensive tackle Justin Smith was ejected in the second quarter after making contact with umpire Garth DeFelice. He was arguing with at least one Charger when he appeared to shove DeFelice, who was trying to keep him out of the scuffle.
TEBOW ON DECK: Former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow is getting more snaps at practice for the Broncos, with starter Kyle Orton nursing bruised ribs, and the rookie might get his first extended action of the season when Denver visits the Raiders.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said he thought Orton would be ready by Sunday, but receiver Brandon Lloyd suggested Tebow Time is close. "… Tebow playing is inevitable and so it's better now than maybe the last game of the season," he said.
FIELD CONCERNS: The Vikings and Bears fear the league is downplaying the injury risk of a rock-hard field at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium for Monday night's game, which was moved from the Metrodome after a roof collapse.
"The whole season has been talked about: player safety, player safety, player safety," Vikings linebacker Ben Leber said. "We're talking about going to 18 games. And then they're going to say, 'Hey, go play on some concrete and enjoy yourselves.' "
STAY BACK: The NFL sent a letter to all teams reminding them of the rules and restrictions for the bench area and sidelines. It was sent in the wake of Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi being suspended and fined by the team for sticking out his knee and tripping Miami's Nolan Carroll Sunday.
BROWNS: Coach Eric Mangini named rookie Colt McCoy his starting quarterback for the rest of this season.
STEELERS: Tight end Heath Miller, recovering from a Dec. 5 concussion, missed practice with an exercise-related headache.