It was fourth down, and Melvin Gordon would have preferred not to jump.
The Chargers running back did it once last season, leaping into the end zone for a score, but he paid a steep price, taking a shot below the waist that still haunts him.
“I felt like my world was about to end,” Gordon remembered. “And I was like, ‘I’m never doing that again.’”
But when you’re last in your division, when you haven’t won two straight games in nearly 365 days and when your only chance to salvage a season means a win, “nevers” aren’t going to cut it.
That’s why on Sunday, Gordon did jump over that pile of Oakland Raiders for a momentum-turning touchdown late in the first half. It’s why the defense, which struggled to tackle all season, hung on to Marshawn Lynch for dear life every time he got the ball. And, it’s why Philip Rivers and the Chargers marched down the field in the final minutes, confidently putting the ball — and the game — on Nick Novak’s right foot.
The 32-yard kick split the goalposts right in front of the Raiders’ famed “Black Hole,” giving the Chargers a 17-16 victory in Oakland and their first winning streak since Week 7 of last season.
“It took all three phases to win that game,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “I thought the guys stepped up and made plays when they had to. That’s what we've been talking about.
“Just so proud that they’re starting to see the fruits of their labor because they work every single week. And they go out and compete. And, they just keep coming. They just keep coming. It’s paying off.”
The Chargers defense, which hasn’t been able to stop a rushing attack all season, played admirably against Lynch, who has made a career of bouncing off tacklers. His first carry of the game — Lynch carrying the ball and a pair of Chargers for a first down — was a perfect example of the back’s vaunted “Beast Mode.”
He wound up averaging almost five yards per carry, but the Chargers were good enough to keep Oakland from counting on that facet of the offense. On a crucial fourth and two to start the fourth quarter, the Raiders elected to throw instead of run.
Derek Carr’s pass was incomplete, and the Chargers got the stop.
Had the Chargers not been coming off a win in New York, and still been covered in the stench of late-game failures, the Raiders might’ve converted that play. They almost surely would’ve converted an extra-point attempt later in the quarter — a miss that allowed the Chargers to win by a point on Novak’s field goal.
“Oh yeah, definitely feel like we’re getting a feeling to where we believe we’re gonna win — not hoping we’re gonna win, but believing we’re gonna win,” Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said. “It took that win last week. [We] lost four, kept working, started figuring it out.”
There were still mistakes — plenty of them.
The Chargers lined up offside on a kickoff — a mistake that ended up costing them nearly 20 yards in field position. Jahleel Addae was badly beaten on a wheel route and had to take a pass interference penalty on a first and 20, helping the Raiders steal three points right before the end of the first half.
They missed tackles on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 47-yard end around for a touchdown, a score that put Oakland ahead late in the fourth quarter.
But, unlike their earlier losses, on Sunday the made plays outnumbered the misses.
For every missed tackle, the defense made a play such as end Chris McCain sniffing out a shovel pass on third down, forcing a punt. For every gaffe on offense, Austin Ekeler would fight for a first down or Mike Williams would jump and expose his back — which had sidelined him to start the season — in order to make his first NFL reception.
And there’d be Gordon and the Chargers offensive line, plowing through the defense in situations even when it was obvious the Chargers were going to run.
Gordon touched the ball 34 times — 25 rushes and nine catches — gaining 150 hard-fought yards.
“He’s going to be sore tomorrow,” Rivers joked, after throwing for 268 yards and a score.
But that was the cost for a victory, one that ended with Rivers and his teammates hooting and hollering their way into the locker room while obscenities and popcorn rained down from the disappointed home fans.
It was a good feeling for the team, one they’re hoping grows more familiar. And that’s why, on fourth and goal from the one, Gordon didn’t care about where he might get hit.
So, Gordon jumped.
“It’s fourth down — gotta get in somehow,” he said. “I actually hate going high, to be honest, but if that’s the way to get in, have to do it.”