Melvin Gordon, Chargers Becoming More Than Just Spoilers in AFC Playoff Picture

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystNovember 7, 2016

Oct 2, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) reacts as he comes off the field during the fourth quarter after fumbling against the New Orleans Saints at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The most common digit associated with San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon during his rookie year was a round one, and a cold one.

Zero.

That’s how many touchdowns he scored in 2015 after the Chargers made a risky investment by using their first-round pick on a running back. One year later, he’s gone from busting to booming, and the 23-year-old has done it while forcing you to focus on another much more important number.

This time, the glowing number that stands out shows how his versatility can impact the outcome of a game and, more importantly, the direction of his team’s season. The number? 261.

That’s how many yards from scrimmage Gordon totaled on Sunday during a 43-35 win over the Tennessee Titans. He erupted against a Titans defense that entered Week 9 ranked fifth against the run, allowing only 82.5 yards per game.

Gordon stomped the Titans with authority, and now, as Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith noted, his single-game production places him in elite company:

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Gordon accounted for 54.8 percent of the Chargers’ offensive output. San Diego expected and wanted him to take ownership of games in that manner when it drafted the centerpiece of its backfield. Gordon needed time to get there, but he’s arriving now and rising fast.

His statement game on Sunday with the second-most single-game yards from scrimmage in Chargers franchise history wasn’t just a one-week flash either. Sure, Gordon’s loudest kaboom came in Week 9 when he posted the most total yards from any running back in 2016, but his near record-setting day had been bubbling for a few weeks.

The 196 rushing yards Gordon finished with against the Titans gives him 469 yards as a runner in San Diego’s past four games.

Toss in his receiving totals, and the former Wisconsin standout's recent ascent comes with an average of 157.8 yards from scrimmage per game during that four-week stretch.

Melvin Gordon over his last four games
GameRushing yardsReceiving yardsTotal yards
Week 6 (vs. Broncos)94094
Week 7 (@Falcons)6853121
Week 8 (@Broncos)11144155
Week 9 (vs. Titans)19665261
Totals469162631
Source: NFL.com

Gordon has promptly shredded any remaining "bust" labels that were hovering around.

But doing that met only the minimum expectations for him in 2016, as not being a bust (see also: not being a complete failure) is the lowest bar to clear. He's also quietly gone about the business of becoming a league-leading offensive threat.

Let’s take the long view now with his contributions as both a runner and pass-catcher. When we do that, Gordon’s name is once again listed alongside some rather talented peers.

Most yards from scrimmage in 2016
PlayerYards from scrimmage
David Johnson1,112
Melvin Gordon1,052
Ezekiel Elliott1,046
DeMarco Murray1,033
Julio Jones970
Source: NFL.com

A Chargers offense playing without two key injured pieces (wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Danny Woodhead) has brought Gordon back to relevance and beyond.

Expect a heavy workload to continue after Gordon's 32 carries on Sunday. Head coach Mike McCoy seems to have arrived at an obvious realization: Feeding Gordon is his best chance to win games.

"I have no problem continuing to give him the ball," McCoy said in his postgame press conference, via Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

If the Chargers played in almost any other division, we’d be talking about them as a potential threat to secure a playoff game at home because of Gordon's emergence. They’ve won three of their last four games, and two of those wins came over powerhouse teams in the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos.

The Chargers also should have taken the division-leading Oakland Raiders to overtime at the very least. Their late-game bumbling resulted in a botched field-goal attempt and another lost opportunity. Fourth-quarter pain has been a frequent cause of throbbing migraines in San Diego, with three of the Chargers’ five losses coming by four or fewer points.

The problem is they do play in the AFC West, which throws a big ol’ wet blanket on this midseason surge.

Prior to the Raiders and Broncos facing off on Sunday Night Football, the AFC West standings weren’t exactly inviting for a team that dug itself an early-season hole.

But the Chargers can still alter the playoff landscape and cause tectonic plate shifts in their own division.

They have two more division games remaining against the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. Those contests conveniently come near the end of the season (Weeks 15 and 17) after a schedule filled with cream puffs. Of the five other opponents on San Diego’s schedule, only one currently has a winning record. Oh, and the Chargers also play four more games at home.

Their climb from a deep, dark and mistake-filled abyss isn’t over yet. The Chargers’ division is daunting, and there are plenty of teams ahead of them also jostling for a wild-card spot.

But none of them have Gordon, a running back who’s proving fully capable of tucking an offense under his arm and then sprinting until he gets to the postseason.

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