Chargers show how dangerous they are when Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler get rolling
CARSON, Calif. — Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn was fairly reserved in dishing out praise for his team following Sunday’s 29-27 nail-biting win over the San Francisco 49ers, who battled to the end behind backup QB C.J. Beathard.
But one player Lynn was more than willing to heap praise upon was Melvin Gordon, who was part of a two-headed RB attack that paced the Chargers in the win.
“He ran outstanding,” Lynn said. “His effort — there were times he could have stepped out of bounds but stayed between the yard line. He made plays.”
Gordon ran 15 times for 104 yards, with a long run of 34. He also caught seven of the 10 passes Philip Rivers threw Gordon’s way, converting them for 55 yards and a touchdown. Gordon also caught a two-point conversion as part of a 20-0 run the Chargers went on after spotting the 49ers a 17-6 lead early on.
The Chargers are now 2-2. They needed this one. A loss would put them way back of the Kansas City Chiefs and even behind the Denver Broncos prior to those teams playing Monday. The season got off to a sour note at home in the loss to the Chiefs when the crowd was largely red. That also happened Sunday, with 49ers fans making the trip down the coast en masse. But after a few of Gordon’s big runs as well as his 6-yard TD catch to give his team the lead for the first time, the StubHub Center’s Chargers supporters had something to yell about.
Lynn credited Gordon’s hard running for setting a tone in the comeback victory.
“I think when you see a young man make an effort the way he did today, it gives the whole sideline juice,” Lynn said. “He inspired me on the sidelines seeing him run.”
Gordon’s conversion came after a gorgeous touchdown scored by Austin Ekeler, his running mate. The Chargers got him singled up on 49ers LB Fred Warner, and Rivers zipped a pretty ball into the end zone for a momentum-changing score. Ekeler’s numbers were not as gaudy as Gordon’s, catching two passes for 31 yards and rushing for 25 yards on eight carries, but he also made his impact felt.
Gordon and Ekeler combined to average 5.6 yards per carry against a 49ers defense that entered the game ranked 10th vs. the run, allowing fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground. Gordon and Ekeler combined for 129 — on only 23 carries.
Of the duo, DE Isaac Rochell said, ”[Gordon and Ekeler] both, they don’t get tackled by the first defender. It’s a little juice to us when we’re watching them play. If he’s going to fight, we all need to fight. I think he looks at [the defense] and says the same thing.”
Gordon suffered an injury late in the game and had to be taken to the medical tent afterward, but he returned to the field on the next series. He was grabbing at his shoulder, but it wasn’t clear what exactly happened other than that he was in considerable discomfort. Lynn said Gordon would “be OK” after the game.
The 49ers had trouble bringing him down, as Gordon pinballed off several would-be tacklers. You could tell it was starting to frustrate the San Francisco defense.
“I can say we’ve got to really work on tackling ... and we’ve got to really harp on that,” 49ers LB Reuben Foster said. “Gordon was playing well. He opened up in the second half. In the first half, he was kind of stumbling, but he still did great at the end of the day.”
Gordon’s receiving ability is now a staple of the Chargers’ offense. On a day in which Keenan Allen was banged up and held to 63 yards on seven catches, and with Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams held to four combined grabs, it was up to Gordon and Ekeler — and Antonio Gates, who scored a TD — to be Rivers’ main outlets.
That’s now 24 catches and three receiving TDs in four games for Gordon, and six or more in three of those games. He’s on pace for a career high in catches, which he set last season with 58, and receiving touchdowns, where he’s one more from tying his high-water mark of four, also set last year.
“Any way to get the ball,” Gordon said. “What Coach [Lynn] talks about is touches. With Philip, you have to be great in the passing game. It just makes me a better football player. It’s all about making a man miss and getting open.”
The Chargers still haven’t come close to reaching max potential, and they must cut down on crucial mistakes in order to be the contending team many pegged them to be. But if they can get this kind of performance from Gordon on a weekly basis, it takes a good offense and can crank it up to being great.