When the Chargers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs last week, they clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2013.
It has been longer than that for Melvin Gordon. It has been so long for him, in fact, that he was more than just a running back at the time.
“They had me playing both ways,” Gordon recalled Monday. “I was tired. I ain’t gotta do that now. I ain’t playing both ways. I got a lot better players around me.”
Gordon’s most recent playoff appearance came with Bradford High in Kenosha, Wis., where he also was cornerback.
At Wisconsin, he appeared in three bowl games, his lone victory coming when the Badgers defeated Auburn in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2015.
Now in his fourth NFL season, Gordon is expected to return from a sprained knee Saturday night against the Baltimore Ravens in the Chargers’ next-to-last game before the playoffs. The Ravens defense leads the league in yards and points allowed and ranks No. 3 against the run.
“It’s going to be tough,” Gordon said. “But we’re going to go out there and knock off some rust and get myself ready for the playoffs.”
He sat out the last three games after suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee Nov. 25.
Gordon was close to returning last Thursday against the Chiefs but was unable to convince coach Anthony Lynn of his readiness during a pregame workout. Lynn had told Gordon the previous night that he was leaning toward not playing him.
“He was just trying to look out for what’s best for me and what’s best for the team,” Gordon said. “He felt it would be selfish to put me out there and something potentially happens and [they] lose me for the rest of the year.”
Gordon returned to practice Monday and was limited. Ekeler remains in concussion protocol. He has been OK’d to resume working out but will be limited until receiving additional medical clearance.
Gordon sat out another game this season because of a hamstring issue. The Chargers are 4-0 without him, but they’re certainly a more dangerous team with their leading rusher.
“I feel good, not 100% obviously,” Gordon said. “I don’t think that’s a secret. But I’m good enough to get out there.”
With two regular-season games to go, he should have plenty of opportunities to prepare himself for what’s coming in January.
“It’s dope, man,” Gordon said of qualifying for the playoffs. “I feel like I’m built for them type of games. That’s why I play football. It’s your squad versus my squad. Loser goes home. I like it like that.”
Henry is back
About seven months after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, tight end Hunter Henry returned to practice.
He remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list and doesn’t count toward the team’s 53-man roster limit. The Chargers have 21 days to determine if they want to activate him.
“It’s a long process, for sure,” Henry said. “But I’ve tried to attack it from the get-go. I feel good.”
Henry was injured in May on the first day of the Chargers’ organized team activities and had surgery a short time later.
He originally was expected to sit out the season but has progressed to the point where the Chargers believe there’s a chance he could return.
Henry explained that the team’s 11-3 showing, a record that includes 10 victories in the last 11 games, has provided motivation.
A second-round pick in 2016, Henry caught 81 passes for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons.
Still considered a piece of the franchise’s future, he said he is weighing a desire to return as quickly as possible against a more cautious approach regarding the rest of his NFL career.
“You don’t get [to be on] a team like this a lot,” Henry said. “I’ve already seen that in just two years of being here. You gotta take advantage of trying to get back out there.”
Mebane expected to play
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane rejoined the Chargers and expects to play Saturday. He sat out the last four games tending to his infant daughter, Makenna, who was born with Trisomy 13, a chromosome disorder.
She had emergency surgery for an intestinal infection last week in Omaha. Mebane said she is stable but will require more surgeries.
“The biggest thing is, thank God, she is still here and recovering,” he said. “Things are a lot better.”
Mebane thanked the Spanos family, which owns the team, for providing the use of a private jet to make the trip.
“That was a blessing for them to do that,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ It wasn’t my first time on a private jet. But it was something they didn’t have to do, and they did it.”
Wide receiver Keenan Allen (hip) did not practice Monday during the portion open to the media. His status remains in doubt for the game Saturday. Allen was injured in the first half at Kansas City. … Tight end Sean Culkin (back) also was not practicing when the media was present.
Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.