Melvin Gordon will lead Chargers to the playoffs

Nov 6, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) runs for a first down during the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 6, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) runs for a first down during the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

Remember when the Chargers relied on quarterback Philip Rivers to lead them to the playoffs? Remember when Rivers became the only reason why this team had a chance? Remember when LaDainian Tomlinson ran all over defenses, taking the pressure off of Rivers?

Yes, I remember those days, thanks to those delicious ‘Member Berries.’

Rivers is an elite quarterback. He’s been giving it his all every single season. He’s been more successful than most. But some were losing faith in the five-time Pro Bowler’s ability to lead the Bolts past mediocrity as of late, and rightfully so. The Chargers have made the playoffs once (2013) in the last six years. They finished with 10-plus losses last season (4-12) for the first time since 2003.

Even at 34 years old, Rivers is still dominating, and he shouldn’t be blamed for the Chargers’ recent failures over the years, but the best thing for him would be to find a player who could take over the game. A player who could not only complement him, but could also take the pressure off of him when needed. The Chargers have been a pass-first team, and that’s the norm in today’s NFL; but what if you had a running back who could be a game-changer?

And what if the Chargers have finally found that guy?

Before the season, I wrote that if the Chargers want to succeed, they must fix the running game as well as stop the run. I also predicted that 2015 first-round pick Melvin Gordon would have a bounce-back year. You want to know why? Because he’s a very good player who didn’t deserve all the blame for a very bad rookie year–and I believed in him.

We’re nine games into the 2016 season, and Gordon leads the league with 11 total touchdowns. He’s rushed for 768 yards on 193 attempts and is averaging 4.0 yards per carry. He ranks behind the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott and the Titans’ DeMarco Murray for the most rushing yards in the NFL. Gordon’s also making an impact in the passing game with 28 receptions for 284 yards (and his pass-blocking is not too shabby). The Gordon we witnessed from Wisconsin–you know, the one who rushed for 2,000 yards with confidence and flashed shifty moves and big-time speed–is what we are witnessing now.

Could Woodhead injury be blessing in disguise for Gordon, Chargers?

And it’s looking like the Chargers are finally ready to let Gordon lead the way. According to ESPN, Gordon has at least 25 touches in six of his last eight games and has topped 100 total yards in three straight contests.

After rushing for 111 yards against the Broncos last week, which broke Denver’s 22-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher, Gordon shredded what was a top-10 defense led by mastermind Dick LeBeau on Sunday. The Titans entered this contest allowing 82.5 rushing yards per game. Gordon finished the game with 261 total yards (196 rushing) including a one-yard rushing touchdown. It was the second-most yards from scrimmage in a regular-season game in franchise history.

Numbers are great, but what was more important was that Gordon closed out the game. The Titans were down by eight, and with 2:37 left in the game, Gordon got the call from the Chargers’ 28-yard line and ran for a 47-yarder on a big third-and-7. He ran for another first down on third-and-1 a few plays later, ending what little hope the Titans had left.

Nov 6, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) runs the ball as Tennessee Titans defensive back Brice McCain (23) defends during the second half at Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego won 43-35. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in the season, Gordon had two costly fumbles in the second half against the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders, respectively. The Chargers lost both of those games after having a lead in the third quarter. It’s good to see that the faith has been restored. As long as Gordon can continue to hang onto the ball, he will be a force going forward.

There is only one problem: The Chargers are 4-5 and in last place in the AFC West, a division where the remaining three teams have at least six wins. The Chargers should have at least six or sevens wins if not for boneheaded play-calling and porous fourth-quarter play, but they are a good football team with loads of talent. They are playing well despite a plethora of injuries to key players, which is quite impressive, too.

In their midseason bold predictions, Around The NFL predicted the Chargers to “come back from the dead” and make the playoffs. It helps that the AFC (aside from the New England Patriots and AFC West) is weak. Of course, coaches play a huge role in determining whether or not the Chargers will succeed or fail, but I truly believe if Gordon keeps doing his thing, the Chargers can make a push. That, along with the defense doing its thing.

I understand that some will say that I’m too optimistic in believing the Chargers can make the postseason. I’ve been called too optimistic for thinking Gordon could bounce back, especially after how he played last year including undergoing microfracture knee surgery in January.

But if you weren’t behind Gordon before the season, it’s time to be behind him going forward.