Melvin Gordon's long dreadlocks flapped in the New England air as he ran down the sideline in the first quarter Sunday. He looked up at the scoreboard, not to admire his work but to make sure he wasn't going to get caught from behind.
Gordon had just enough to make into the end zone for the first touchdown in the Chargers' 21-13 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
It was an 87-yard touchdown. If he needed to go 88, he might not have made it.
"I couldn't change gears," Gordon said. "I felt like I had King Kong on my back."
The Chargers running back won't have to carry the giant ape on his back over the season's final eight weeks. But for the team to realize coach Anthony Lynn's vision for the offense, Gordon will have to continue to carry a significant workload.
During the Chargers' three-game winning streak, which the Patriots snapped, Gordon touched the ball an average of 26 times per game. As a result, he spent entire weeks on the team's injury report, first dealing with a sore shoulder and last week being slowed by a sore foot. He also had some knee pain earlier this season.
Despite the injuries, he has not missed a game, and Sunday he carried the ball 14 times for 132 yards.
"Melvin came into the game a little sore, but I thought he played extremely hard. He left a couple of yards on the field out there, but I thought he played well," Lynn said, and added, "It says what I already knew about him — he's a high-character young man who works his tail off. He's going to be an elite back in this league."
The Chargers, though, might need the "going to be" to become an "is" sooner rather than later. Eight games into the season, the team is still searching for a 30-point performance. Last season they did it five times in the season's first nine games.
"The one thing that's not the recipe to me yet, that we've not found the recipe for, is we've got to score," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We've got to score more. I think it's the thing that hurts the most. …I hate that for our defense, and I hate that for what we, as an offense, are so used to scoring a lot of points — all the time. And, we just haven't scored as many points. We've done a lot of good things, but not score as many points."
And when you're trying to win football games, not scoring is a pretty sizable issue. Luckily in Gordon, the Chargers have a player with a knack for getting into the end zone.
Before the 87-yard run, tied for the team's longest rush in franchise history, Gordon had scored seven times — a number that could've been one higher had the Chargers not failed on four rushing attempts from the one-yard line against Denver a week ago.
The Chargers seemingly have made an effort to rely more on Gordon and the team's defense instead of Rivers, a switch that helped them go on that winning streak, in which Rivers had six touchdown passes and just one interception. He has five picks in seven games after throwing a league-leading 21 last season.
"When you look at his quarterback rating, it's really high. I think he gave us a chance to win all four games," Lynn said. "That's a good thing. Him getting us in the right plays, more completions, passing efficiency, less turnovers — you're going to always give yourself a chance to win if you do those things."
That means, in all likelihood, more on Gordon's shoulders — more touches, and more sore feet and banged-up shoulders.
The Chargers hope that results in more points.
"We just have so much talent," Gordon said. "We've got to find a way, man. It's tough."
And if the plan is to keep giving the ball to Gordon, asking him to pound away before he breaks free for a big gain, he'd better be tough too.