San Diego Chargers Need to Make Sure Ryan Mathews Doesn't Rush Back

Michael SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterAugust 17, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 18:  Running back Ryan Mathews #24 of the San Diego Chargers carries the ball in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Qualcomm Stadium on December 18, 2011 in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Ravens 34-14.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

If the San Diego Chargers want to contend in the AFC West this season, they need Ryan Mathews on the bench—at least for the early part of the season. 

Mathews is currently sidelined with a broken clavicle and, depending on whom you listen to, is anywhere from two weeks (via the AP) to two months (via away from playing football again. Like most "macho" football players, Mathews wants to be back as soon as the games matter, but rushing back from injury could do more harm than good to the Chargers' playoff hopes.

Complicating matters here, Mathews might not be getting the best medical advice. According to NBC San Diego, the Chargers team doctor could be losing his medical license:

This comes on the heels of the Medical Board's decision in May to issue a public reprimand against Dr. Chao after it determined that he was "dishonest" when he failed to reveal a misdemeanor DUI Conviction...This latest petition accuses Dr. Chao of gross negligence in the care of a patient, repeated negligent acts and failure to maintain adequate and accurate medical records.

The medical board states that one of the three patients suffered neurological problems and further complications after having surgery with Dr. Chao.

Why the Chargers have decided this man should be in charge of their multimillion-dollar investments is beyond absurd. One is forced to think back to the Chargers' recent injury history and wonder if things could have been different with a different doctor on the payroll.

Medical negligence aside, however, why would the Chargers want to hurry Mathews back for football reasons?

Philip Rivers threw the ball 582 times last season, good for fifth in the NFL. The year before that? 541 attempts. This is Norv Turner and an always-aerial passing attack. Mathews may be a big part of the Chargers' plans this season, but it isn't like they can't win football games without running the football.

While the Chargers would love to still have Mike Tolbert in this scenario, Ronnie Brown and LeRon McClain can handle carries in an otherwise pass-happy offense. Jackie Battle has played this role before, as well—rushing for almost 600 yards and four yards per carry in relief of Jamaal Charles last season.

None of those backs are Ryan Mathews, but all of them are part of a group that could easily get the job done for part of the season.

Look at the Chargers' schedule.

Opening at Oakland and hosting Tennessee isn't exactly a murderers' row to start the season, and the next two weeks, against Atlanta and Kansas City, are both winnable games with or without Mathews. The most conservative estimates have Mathews fully healthy by New Orleans in Week 5—a game for which the team might need him the most.

But, even if the Chargers were to drop all of those games, even if San Diego started the season 0-4, why should that force the team into rushing Mathews back? The Chargers have always been slow starters under Turner, and 8-8 won the AFC West last season.

Why put your franchise back in danger?

Worst-case scenario for the Chargers' season is losing Mathews long term. If he rushes back to action and re-injures his clavicle, it could sideline him another five-to-six weeks. He could play through the injury, as Raider Louis Murphy did two seasons ago, but playing hurt and scared isn't going to help the Chargers either.

Sit Ryan Mathews.

Don't rush him back. Don't let him rush back. The NFL is a business, and it would be incredibly bad business to put Mathews at risk for some antiquated notion that "real men play hurt." No one gets bonus points for playing through injury, and the Chargers will need Mathews down the stretch more than they need him to start the season.


Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."