Melvin Gordon’s dazzling 66-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, in which the elusive Chargers running back left two Raiders defenders grasping for air, was the offensive highlight of Sunday’s 20-6 victory in the Oakland Coliseum.
But it was Gordon’s blue-collar effort on a key second-quarter play, an act of unselfishness that won’t show up in the box score, that most impressed his teammates and coaches.
A Nick Dzubnar holding penalty on a Raiders punt pinned the Chargers back at their nine-yard line with 3 ½ minutes left in the first half and the score tied 3-3. Quarterback Philip Rivers hit Gordon with a five-yard pass and teamed with Tyrell Williams on a 31-yard pass to the 45-yard line.
As Rivers dropped back on first down, Raiders linebacker Marquel Lee blitzed hard off the edge and was virtually untouched as he made a bee line toward the Chargers quarterback.
Gordon stepped in and put up a roadblock, dropping his shoulder pads and helmet into Lee’s thighs and holding off the defender just long enough for Rivers to fire an 18-yard pass to tight end Antonio Gates. It was the 940th catch of Gates’ career, tying him with Art Monk for 19th place on the NFL’s all-time receptions list.
Five plays later, Rivers threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Allen for a 10-3 lead with 24 seconds left in the second quarter.
“He told me he laid him down, man,” Gates said of Gordon. “When you have a superstar back giving himself up and making that sacrifice for other guys on the team, it speaks volumes about the character of what we stand for and what he’s all about too.”
Gordon rushed 18 times for 93 yards and caught five passes for 72 yards on Sunday, giving him 672 yards and seven touchdowns rushing on 125 carries and 35 receptions for 361 yards and four touchdowns on the season.
According ESPN statistics, Gordon is one of two players over the past decade with a streak of five games in which he has accumulated 120 total yards and a touchdown. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles accomplished the feat in 2013.
Gordon is used to such glory, but as he showed with his block on Lee, he’s is not afraid to do some dirty work.
“He’s a complete back,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “You get paid to stop linebackers. We work on blitz pick-up all the time. He’s a really good blocker in this league. Some guys, you’ve got to take them out in that situation. But with Melvin, you can leave him in every single down.”
Gordon takes as much pride in blocking as he does in running and catching the football.
“It’s a big part of the game,” Gordon said. “If you want to be great, you have to know how to do it all, and if you want to be special and help this team out, you have to do more than you were born to do. You have to be able to block and help protect and help get other guys the ball. You can’t be a selfish player.”
Gordon has been a physical, punishing runner this season, using his strength and balance to barrel through defenders so often you can forget he has some nifty moves and break-away speed.
He showed off both those traits on his 66-yard touchdown catch, taking a quick pass from Rivers on the left side, faking out cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Reggie Nelson near midfield and getting a nice downfield block from Allen en route to the end zone and a 17-3 Chargers lead.
“I was the ‘hot man,’ so I knew if they blitzed on the end, I would be the first read,” Gordon said. “It happened to open up. A couple of guys missed, I got a couple blocks down the field and was sprung into the end zone.”
The play was similar to one the Chargers scored during a home victory over the Raiders on Oct. 7, when Rivers, after bobbling a snap, beat a pair of blitzing defenders by firing to Austin Ekeler. He turned a short pass to the left flat into a 44-yard touchdown.
“I knew they were bringing the house,” Rivers said. “I wasn’t sure if their linebacker was going to peel out Melvin or not, and when he didn’t, I wanted to get the ball to him. Once he made the corner miss, I knew there was nobody left. It was a huge play in the game.”
So was Gordon’s second-quarter block on Lee, which probably won’t appear on any highlight shows but was appreciated by the guys who are paid to block.