The Chargers will need to be at their best Thursday night at Kansas City. But they might not have their best running back or next-best running back against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chargers conducted a walk-through Monday but estimated that neither Melvin Gordon nor Austin Ekeler would have been able to participate in a full practice.
Gordon has sat out the last two games because of a sprained ligament in his right knee. He did not practice last week, either.
Ekeler suffered a neck injury — he called it a bruised nerve — near the end of the Chargers’ 26-21 victory Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals.
On Monday, he reported concussion symptoms and was put in concussion protocol.
Ekeler said that his neck remains stiff and immobile. He didn’t sound optimistic about his chances of playing with a short turnaround between games.
“Maybe if it was a shoulder or something, it’s like, ‘OK, I can get through this,’” Ekeler said. “You can’t mess around with your neck and your head. …I definitely want to make sure I feel comfortable before I get back on the field.”
He was injured on an onside kick in the final two minutes. Bengals safety Clayton Fejedelem hit Ekeler improperly, making helmet-to-helmet contact inside the 10-yard restricted area as the Chargers’ Adrian Phillips recovered the ball.
Ekeler called the play “one of the hardest hits I’ve ever had, especially to my head area.” Fejedelem was called for an illegal block above the waist.
“Injuries suck, especially when it’s to your head or your neck,” Ekeler said. “It’s a life decision. It comes down to you can’t let your pride get in the way of it. It’s football, yeah, but there’s a lot of life after football too.”
Ekeler, who has had unrelated neck issues throughout the season, said that he met Monday with a doctor who told him his injury could take a few days to a couple of weeks to heal, depending on the severity.
He explained that moving his head back or to the side results in an immediate pinching sensation.
“Until that goes away or at least calms down and actually allows me to move my head around…” Ekeler said, his voice trailing off. “Yeah, right now, I’m very limited.”
Coach Anthony Lynn said that Gordon is improving but evaluating him this week could be tougher because of the short preparation time.
Since the Chargers won’t conduct a full-speed practice, Gordon will be left to test his knee in more intense individual drills.
“It is a little bit of a concern,” Lynn said. “But he can make those same cuts that he would make in practice on the side. We’ll just evaluate that and see how he looks.”
The forecast for Thursday night in Kansas City might not help either ailing running back. Temperatures are expected to be in the upper 30s with a high probability of rain, meaning the field could be slick.
If Gordon and Ekeler are unable to play, the Chargers would have to turn to rookies Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome, who have a combined 32 carries this season.
Jackson was a seventh-round pick from Northwestern and Newsome was undrafted after playing at Western Carolina.
“They’re going to have to [perform],” Lynn said when asked about the possibility of the largely untested duo assuming expanded roles. “This is a game that we need. No matter who you put on the field we expect them to execute and be ready to play.”
Jackson has carried 27 times for 139 yards and a touchdown. He also has caught five passes for 61 yards. Newsome has carried five times for 15 yards.
Surprise from Rivers
In an obscure and random way, Sunday’s game will go down as one of the oddest in Philip Rivers’ career.
The Chargers’ first and last plays from scrimmage were runs by Rivers, who in the NFL has passed for nearly 54,000 yards but run for only 579.
The first play was supposed to be a pass, but, finding no one open, Rivers scrambled for five yards.
The last play was a designed run with Rivers faking a handoff and heading around the right end before being chased down after a two-yard gain by Carlos Dunlop, a 280-pound defensive lineman.
Lynn was asked what the thinking was behind having Rivers run the ball in that situation on third and five.
“That nobody in that stadium would believe Philip Rivers is going to keep the football,” he answered.