SAN DIEGO-Todd Gurley is not running the ball so well this season. Melvin Gordon is, though. Gurley was the toast of the NFL last season as the newest stud running back. Gordon, for the most part, played like toast in 2015, gaining just 641 yards in 14 games. That’s not a number to bring home to mamma.
Last season, Gurley was the named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.” At the same time, hater nation raged over Gordon and his not-so-impressive rookie campaign. Some people even went as far to label him a bust.
Boy, how a year can make a difference in the way the two running backs are viewed. After his 196 yards rushing gem against the Tennessee Titans during the San Diego Chargers’ 43-35 win at Qualcomm Stadium, the word bust would be the furthest thing associated to Gordon.
He’s tied for the league in rushing touchdowns (9) and is third among all running backs with 768 yards through nine games. Gurley is No. 18 on that list with 451 yards on the ground. Who’s a bust now?
“Every guy wants to make a play,”Gordon said following the game. “Every guy wants you to look at him and think, ‘I can count on this guy.’ That’s how we all want to be. When you get the opportunity to have the ball in your hands, it’s your job to make something happen.”
Gordon is now the guy looking like he has a cape strapped to the back of his shoulders. These days Gurley is looking more and more like a guy named Clark Kent trying to find the nearest telephone booth to make a change. So far, they appear to be all occupied at the moment.
Gordon, on the other hand, must have been hanging out with David Banner’s alter ego over the summer. The transformation for the young Gordon has been staggering. He’s running the ball harder. He’s hitting the holes with more authority. He’s catching the ball out of the backfield with more patience.
More importantly, he’s finding his way into the endzone. Last season, Gordon went the entire the NFL year without hitting paydirt. His one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave the Chargers a 26-21 lead over the Titans, a late-game advantage San Diego did not give back the way they did against the New Orleans Saints in Week 4.
It could be that Gordon did not put the ball on the carpet in this contest the way he did against the Saints, which helped New Orleans in staging a comeback win against the Chargers.
“I was just thinking about getting there first and protecting the ball,” said Gordon. “I just remember being in that same situation against the Saints. I was coming up short. I knew I had to get the ball. That was the focus. I was just focusing on holding onto the ball and keeping my feet going.”
Instead of turning the ball over, Gordon rumbled all over Tennessee defenders with his 32 carries. He ran by them. He ran through them. All afternoon, Gordon ran like a man on a mission. Could it be that Gordon was inspired by the presence of future Hall of Famer and retired Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson?
The greatest running back in the franchise history, Tomlinson showed up to the game as the team honored Chargers Hall of Fame members during a halftime ceremony that included appearances of Dan Fouts, Ron Mix, Kellen Winslow, Leslie ‘Neal, Charlie Joiner and the great Wes Chandler.
“It’s amazing,” Gordon said. “I saw him talking out there today and I wanted to talk with him before, but I had a game to play, so I had to be focused. It was amazing having all those historic guys out there that did something special for this organization. To have them out there and then get this victory meant a lot.”
Seeing all of those legendary players is enough to motivate anybody. It took a while, however, for Gordon to really get juiced and get going. He only had 14 yards rushing on five carries in the first quarter. Yeah, that’s real exciting.
But by halftime, Gordon had 100 yards carrying the football. A 43-yard burst up the gut of the Tennessee defense by Gordon helped give San Diego a 16-0 cushion in the second quarter.
He added just 12 yards to his totals in the third quarter before exploding again in the fourth period. This time it mattered. Even with Gordon’s run-game explosion, getting two defensive touchdowns in the game, the Chargers were still clinging to its 43-35 lead with 2:27 left on on the clock.
That’s more than plenty of time for an NFL team to take the ball down the field and put up a score. The Chargers decided to place the football and the ballgame in Gordon’s hands. He responded the way big-time players do.
Facing a third-and-seven and backed up on their own 28-yard-line, the Chargers surprisingly didn’t call for quarterback Philip Rivers to bail them out. They gave the ball to Gordon, who hit the gap over left tackle and galloped 47 yards for a first down, hand-delivering the Titans a game-ending dagger.
“We’re just working hard and our whole goal from training camp to now has been to finish,” Gordon said. “That’s our mindset. When we’re out there, everybody’s goal is to finish, finish, finish.”