As winners and playoff qualifiers Sunday, the Chargers still expressed some discontent after their 23-9 victory.
That was nowhere more apparent than in front of the locker of running back Melvin Gordon.
“We’re obviously not playing the way we want to play going into the playoffs,” he said. “It was a little frustrating today, to say the least. Didn’t look like Chargers football to me.”
Gordon missed three games because of a sprained ligament in his right knee. He returned last week against Baltimore and started again against Denver.
In both games, the Chargers offense struggled to sustain momentum and Gordon was unable to rediscover his explosiveness.
Since coming back, he has carried 22 times for 83 yards and caught six passes for 37 yards.
“We just can’t get in a rhythm for some reason,” he said. “We gotta convert, man. We gotta convert on third down. We gotta convert on every down. We gotta play better.”
Gordon’s exasperation is heightened by the fact that he has repeatedly talked about the Chargers’ potential this season, noting how much he believes this team can achieve.
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa sacks Broncos quarterback Case Keenum during a second quarter drive at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers cornerback Desmond King Jr. knocks the ball from Broncos running back Royce Freeman, causing a fumble that teammate Kyle Emmanuel returned for a touchdown at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon runs for a 19-yard gain that was nullified by a holding penalty on tight end Virgil Green (88) on a third quarter drive at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers receiver Mike Williams is twisted down by Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom after a short gain during a third-quarter drive at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers receiver Mike Williams pulls in a three-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers, beating Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom in the third quarter at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Denver cornerback Isaac Yiadom intercepts a Philip Rivers pass intended for receiver Tyrell Williams in the first quarter at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler makes a cut for a 41-yard run in the fourth quarter against the Broncos.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is tackled by Broncos nose tackle Shelby Harris after a two-yard gain during the fourth quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers receiver Mike Williams is tackled by Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom after a 14-yard pass reception during a fourth quarter drive.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. celebrates with teammate Desmond King Jr. (left) after a 100-yard interception return on a two-point conversion attempt.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Broncos defensive lineman Derek Wolfe knocks down a pass during the first quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward Jr., steps in front of Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton to intercept a two-point conversion attempt. Hayward returned it 100 yards, giving the Chargers two points.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Broncos receiver Tim Patrick can’t hold on to a pass as Chargers cornerback Micheal Davis delivers a blow during third quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum fumbles a snap from center Conor McGovern during the third quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa dances after sacking Broncos quarterback Case Keenum in the second quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers defensive backs Casey Hayward Jr. (right) Jahleel Addae and Adrian Phillips take the field for warmups before taking on the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers fans line up for Joey Bosa during pregame warmups at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
In his fourth season, Gordon is about to experience his first playoff game as a professional.
He sounded confident and defiant despite the Chargers’ upcoming challenge — a road date opposite a Baltimore team that just won at StubHub Center 22-10 in Week 16.
“We special,” Gordon said. “I feel like we’re the best football team in the NFL. When we struggling, it frustrates me a little bit.
“I feel like we have the leaders to get this done. There’s no question in my mind that we’re going to be ready against Baltimore. No doubt about that.”
King’s slot change
Desmond King has emerged as one of the NFL’s top slot cornerbacks this season, with 60 combined tackles, three interceptions and 13 pass breakups.
But the second-year pro did not play his first defensive snap against the Broncos until the final play of the first quarter.
“That was a coach’s decision,” coach Anthony Lynn said, declining to elaborate.
King said the early benching was not for disciplinary reasons.
Rayshawn Jenkins started in King’s place and spent the rest of the afternoon at the safety and slot corner spots, accumulating seven tackles, one for a loss, an indication that Jenkins could assume a bigger role moving forward.
King played on special teams in the first quarter and saw plenty of action on defense in the final three quarters, finishing with five tackles and one quarterback hit and forcing one special-teams fumble.
“It was just a rotation with me and Rayshawn to get him some experience out there at nickel and dime and safety,” King said. “We’re just trying to get all of our guys on the field ready for the playoffs. I was good with it.”
The Chargers suffered another injury at linebacker when starter Jatavis Brown hurt his ankle on the final play of the first quarter and did not return.
The extent of Brown’s injury remained unclear afterward. He was seen in the postgame locker room on crutches and wearing a walking boot.
The Chargers were thin at the position even before Brown went down. Former starters Denzel Perryman and Kyzir White already have been lost for the season.
The Broncos opened Sunday’s game with an onside kick that Brandon Facyson, a reserve Chargers cornerback who has played exclusively on special teams this season, recovered.
Facyson also recovered a fumble that was caused by King on a Chargers kickoff in the fourth quarter.
“It’s great to be able to contribute,” Facyson said. “I love being on this team. These are my brothers, my family. I want to do whatever I can to help them out.”
Was Facyson anticipating an onside kick to start the game or was he surprised by Denver’s trickery?
“It was a mixture of both,” he said. “Our coaches do a good job of preparing us for the little things and always being aware of those situations. I was just glad I was in a position to make a play for my team.”
Safety Derwin James, who had six tackles, became the first Chargers rookie since at least 1970 to make 100 tackles in a season, finishing with 105. He is the only player in the NFL with at least 100 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions this season. … Keenan Allen, who set a franchise record with 102 catches last season, had four receptions for 64 yards. He finished the regular season with 97 catches for 1,196 yards and six touchdowns. … Next season the Chargers will play the Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, Colts, Texans, Packers, Vikings and Steelers at home and the Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, Titans, Bears, Lions, Jaguars and Dolphins on the road.