COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn received some slightly good news Monday when it was announced that running back Melvin Gordon is week to week after he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during a 45-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals .
Lynn said that the fourth-year running back is “highly doubtful” for this week’s key AFC showdown at Pittsburgh but that he is hopeful of returning before the end of the regular season.
“We are taking it week by week. You can never count him out since he recovers quickly,” Lynn said.
Gordon, who rushed for 61 yards and two touchdowns, was injured Sunday when the Chargers ran a reverse during the third quarter and he was leg whipped to the ground by Cardinals defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. It was a curious play call considering it was the first time Los Angeles had run that and they were comfortably ahead.
Lynn did not second-guess the call, noting that they were still trying to be aggressive with a 28-10 lead.
“That’s a play we’ve had in for a long time, and we’ve been trying to get it called in a game,” he said. “It’s a play that if we get around the perimeter, he would still be running. They made a heck of a play and hit us in the backfield.”
Gordon, who missed the Week 7 game against Tennessee due to hamstring injury, is fourth in the league in average yards from scrimmage per game (125.5) and is sixth in the league in rushing with 802 yards. He has already scored a career-high 13 touchdowns, which includes nine rushing.
Austin Ekeler is expected to become the lead back if Gordon misses any time, with Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome also seeing time.
Ekeler is averaging a league-leading 7.5 yards per touch. The second-year back also has four touchdowns. With a rushing score against Arizona, he is the first undrafted player in team history to post a rushing and a receiving TD in each of his first two seasons.
“Those are big shoes to fill and Melvin and I are different running backs. He’s a beast, and I have to step up my game and Justin and Detrez as well got to be ready to go,” Ekeler said. “I got to keep carrying the load now.”
Jackson and Newsome got their first extended snaps during the fourth quarter. Jackson had seven carries for 57 yards and Newsome added 15 yards on four carries. Lynn said as the season hits the late stages sometimes mixing in fresher legs can be a benefit.
The Chargers will face a Steelers team that lost 24-17 to Denver. Pittsburgh is ranked sixth in the league in total defense and 10th against the run. However, the Steelers have allowed 398 yards on the ground the past three games, including 124 against Denver.
Los Angeles (8-3) will host Cincinnati on Dec. 9 before a key division contest four days later at Kansas City. The Chargers have a firm grip on the first wild card spot, but three of their final five games are against teams that would also currently make the playoffs — the Steelers, Chiefs and Ravens (Dec. 22).
Quarterback Philip Rivers, who tied the NFL mark Sunday for consecutive completions and broke records for the most to start a game and the highest completion percentage in a game, said the offense isn’t going to change if Gordon can’t go.
“We’re still going to run our offense. We can’t all of the sudden say, ‘Hey, let’s throw it 50 times.’ I think those guys, we trust those guys enough,” said Rivers, who completed 28 of 29 for 259 yards and three touchdowns. “The guys up front are blocking and running well enough that we still have to continue with the balance and those three will have to pick up that load. We’ll have to continue to be efficient in the passing game.”
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