COSTA MESA, Calif. — If there were questions about whether the left knee strain that forced running back Melvin Gordon III to miss a significant chunk of the Chargers’ 23-17 wild-card win over the Baltimore Ravens would be a lingering issue this week against the Patriots, Gordon all but laughed them off.
“Just hurt it a little bit,” Gordon said. “Throw a little dirt on it, I’ll be all right.”
Gordon was already nursing a sore MCL in his right knee after spraining it in late November. But the mere sight of Gordon limping after his third carry of the game for a 3-yard gain up the middle against the Ravens was enough to make the Chargers’ postseason life flash before their eyes.
But Gordon never thought the injury was severe enough to keep him off the field. He returned to finish with 17 carries for 40 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run.
And even though he missed practice Wednesday for the second time this week, missing Sunday’s matchup in Foxborough was always out of the question.
“No doubt in my mind I’ll be able to do that,” he said. “I’m just going out there and feeling comfortable. I wanted to go out there yesterday, but Coach was just like, ‘Chill.’ ”
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn’s intent to sit Gordon during practice this week was simply to get him to game day.
Gordon said he was dealing with general stiffness — “That’s what comes with it,” he said — but he’s taken advantage of the rest, saying, “I feel good. I’m ready to roll.”
Knee issues may have slowed Gordon down after a breakout season in 2017 (284 carries for 1,105 yards and 8 touchdowns), but he was still the Chargers’ most dangerous weapon out of the backfield, with a team-high 885 yards on 175 carries and 10 rushing TDs to go along with 50 receptions for 490 yards and four more scores.
The snaps he missed allowed the Chargers to explore other options in the backfield as insurance. Second-year back Austin Ekeler turned his 106 carries into 554 yards and three touchdowns while rookie Justin Jackson ran for 206 yards on 50 carries.
“Fortunately for us, we have a number of guys who have stepped up and gone in and been in the rotation, so that certainly helps,” said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. “It’s been a little bit of a blessing that they were forced in there and able to play. If this was their first game going in where they had to play —if they do, you know — a playoff game in New England is tough. But these guys have played. They’ve gotten reps. They’ve both done well when they’ve been in there.”
In just his fourth season, this is Gordon’s first taste of the postseason and even if he’s not at full strength the chance to play on this stage — against an NFL legacy act such as the Patriots — is worth pushing through the injuries that have nagged at him.
“It’s a big opportunity. Not just because it’s the Patriots, but it’s just another step towards us getting to the Super Bowl,” Gordon said. “It just so happens we happen to be playing the Patriots. We know how great of a team they are. The Patriots in the regular season and the Patriots in the postseason are two different pictures. They’re locked in, but we’re a different Chargers team as well in the postseason.”
They showed as much last week, winning a rock fight in Baltimore against the Ravens despite mustering just 243 yards of total offense while settling for five Michael Badgley field goals of 21, 53, 40, 34, and 47 yards. The margin for error Sunday against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium will be thinner, which will make execution that much more essential.
“Just us making our plays,” Gordon said. “Playing [Tom] Brady, you have to make plays, playing their defense, you have to make plays and you have to play clean football . . . Everything matters against the Patriots — against everybody around this time — but especially against the Patriots. We know — everybody knows around the league — that they don’t make big mistakes, so you’ve got to make everything count.”
Gordon’s only first-hand experience against New England came in a 21-13 loss Oct. 29, 2017, in Foxborough. The Chargers jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Gordon’s 87-yard breakaway, but didn’t score again until the fourth quarter on Philip Rivers’s 24-yard scoring toss to Travis Benjamin.
Gordon put together one of the best performances of his career — 132 yards on 14 carries , including the touchdown run — but that was last season.
“You can’t never really think about games I played last year, because it’s a different team,” Gordon said. “We’re a different team and they’re different. I’m going to just go in there. I know what type of player I am, so I’m going to go in there and give everything I’ve got.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.