SAN DIEGO — The first time Mike Tolbert went into the end zone against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, he began the first celebration dance that came to mind.
The surroundings were familiar; Tolbert was a Charger for four seasons. He said he never plans his dances, so when he gathered himself from leaping over the pile, he went to the signature dance move he had done at Qualcomm Stadium for all those years.
Tolbert, a fullback, said his first touchdown was “great.” The second one was “whoa.” And the 31-7 Carolina victory was the icing on his “Welcome Back” cake.
Tolbert rushed nine times for 40 yards and two touchdowns, and caught two passes for 24 yards.
“He was a lot of fun to watch,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “And Mike played with a little incentive. He loves San Diego and his wife’s family is from here. He wanted to come here and come back and play well for the people who come out to cheer for him.”
Tolbert was once beloved in San Diego, rushing for 11 touchdowns in 2010 and eight in 2011. But he didn’t leave on the best of terms. He said “things happened” between him and the front office, and he eventually took a $1 million pay cut and a smaller role in the backfield to come to the Panthers.
For those reasons, Tolbert was unsure what the fan reaction would be.
“The fans have always shown me a lot of love in San Diego,” Tolbert said. “The way we came back and had our team basically demolish the Chargers and then they still showed me a lot of love as I was leaving the field, it was a great feeling. A satisfying feeling.”
Tolbert’s first score came at the end of a 13-play, 80-yard opening drive. He leaped over the pile from a yard out, his third rushing touchdown of the season.
His next score, also from a yard away, let the Panthers capitalize on a Philip Rivers fumble. He rushed in off left tackle, spun the ball and wiggled his hips in the corner of the end zone.
Sunday was the first time Tolbert has had two rushing touchdowns in a game since Week 2 of 2010, with San Diego. His 40 rushing yards were his most as a Panther. Of his nine carries, two went for touchdowns, two more were third-down conversions and another went for 13 yards and a first down. Both of Tolbert’s second-quarter receptions went for first downs.
Following Tolbert’s second touchdown, Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams sat beside him on the bench.
After getting a “welcome home” from Williams, Tolbert said it “just feels good getting in the end zone twice.”
“I said, ‘Who would have thought,’ ” Williams said as he retold the story for reporters, “ ‘We’re at San Diego, we’re up 14-0 in the first half and Mike Tolbert has two touchdowns.’
“He said, ‘What are you trying to say? I should have had three?’
“That’s Mike Tolbert.”
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