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 a 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 due to 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 Hall of Famer Dan Fouts' team record set from 1979-81.
Jackson had five catches for 112 yards.
Unhappy that the Chargers didn't give him a long-term deal, Jackson sat out the first seven seasons. He then missed three more games while serving a team-imposed suspension. The move cost him some $3 million in salary.
When he returned at Indianapolis on Nov. 28, he pulled a calf muscle two plays in and was done for the night and the next game.
On the fourth play from scrimmage, Rivers wound up and threw deep. The 6-foot-5 Jackson slowed down and reached out over 6-foot Nate Clements' head to make the catch at about the 15 before outracing the cornerback into the end zone.
Jackson exploited a mismatch against linebacker Takeo Spikes for an easy 11-yard catch just before halftime.
Jackson pulled in a 21-yarder early in the fourth quarter, getting the ball just past the pylon. The play was upheld after a review.
Mike Tolbert had a 1-yard TD run in the third quarter and Nate Kaeding kicked field goals of 25 and 39 yards.