They passed him the ball, handed him the ball, passed to him again and handed off to him again.
And that was just in the first five plays Sunday, the Chargers intent on reintegrating Melvin Gordon as quickly as possible in an attempt to compensate for nine weeks of holding out because of a contract dispute.
“We wanted to get him lathered up and get him going,” coach Anthony Lynn explained this week. “These are his reps. He missed a lot of time. We’ve got to get him back up to date.”
Gordon missed training camp, the preseason and the first four games while failing to secure the extension he sought.
Following the Chargers’ 20-13 loss to Denver, Gordon said he felt fine physically but admitted he struggled with late on-field calls from quarterback Philip Rivers.
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He said the toughest adjustment returning this late will be refining the sort of small details that typically are ironed out during training camp practices and preseason games.
“We have to get him involved,” Lynn said. “He’s our starting running back. He’s missed a lot of time. This is the only time we have. We don’t have a preseason anymore. So he’s going to get his game reps right now.”
The Chargers have gladly welcomed back Gordon, wide receiver Keenan Allen posting a video on social media of the warm locker-room reception the exact moment the running back walked in.
But his return did not boost the offense as expected. In fact, the opposite happened. The Chargers failed to establish any consistency against the Broncos and finished with a season-low 246 yards.
Afterward, Lynn dismissed the suggestion that Gordon rejoining the team somehow negatively affected the chemistry on offense.
“No, not at all,” he said. “Melvin’s a good football player. … He didn’t have many opportunities, I can tell you that. But he played OK.”
Gordon carried 12 times for 31 yards and caught four passes for seven yards. As a team, the Chargers generated only 35 yards on the ground in 16 attempts.
With Gordon back, Austin Ekeler was used more as a receiver, Denver’s defense backing off in a scheme that successfully eliminated big plays. Ekeler caught 15 passes but gained only 86 yards. He carried only three times for seven yards. While Gordon was out, Ekeler averaged 14 carries a game.
“To me, I could care less about carries,” Lynn said. “It’s touches.”
Against the Broncos, Ekeler had 18 touches and Gordon 16. When the Chargers play Pittsburgh on Sunday night at Dignity Health Sports Park, Gordon’s workload is expected to increase.
One of Gordon’s carries that netted no gain Sunday came on a third-quarter play near the goal line after the Chargers inserted Tyrod Taylor at quarterback and split Rivers out wide right.
Immediately after that failed bit of trickery, Rivers was intercepted in the end zone, one of four Chargers red-zone trips that failed to result in a touchdown Sunday.
It wasn’t the first time they’ve employed Rivers and Taylor at the same time this season. So far, those plays have been largely unsuccessful.
“With Tyrod in there you have to defend him,” Lynn said. “You can’t stack the box as much. Just trying to create an advantage there in the blocking scheme, that’s all.
“I thought the exchange was a little sloppy, and it could have been from the backup quarterback being in the game or it could have been from a new runner. Other than that, nothing wrong with the concept.”
Another notable breakdown came on the final play of the first half when Ekeler, on fourth down from the one-yard line, took a short pass from Rivers and tried to score on a sweep around the left edge.
The Broncos forced Ekeler wider than he wanted to go, and he eventually was stopped near the front pylon and fumbled for a touchback.
Asked whether he was OK with the play call, Lynn said, “Hell, I called it, so I guess I was OK with it.
“Looking back at that play, should I have kicked the field goal? Maybe so. But I wanted a touchdown. I wanted to give this team some momentum going into the locker room knowing we were going to get the ball back.”
Instead, the Chargers went into halftime trailing 17-0. After receiving the third-quarter kickoff, they gained four yards in three plays and punted.
On a day when the Chargers produced very little down the field, wide receiver Andre Patton drew two pass-interference calls that totaled 52 yards. Both plays contributed to drives that resulted in field-goal attempts.
“He did a good job of fighting back toward the ball and creating it,” Lynn said. “That’s just a smart move by him. I liked the way he played. I like some of the things that he’s doing.”
Because of injury, Patton has been active for three games this season. He has two catches for 22 yards. Patton, 25, spent the past two seasons and the start of this one on the Chargers’ practice squad.
“He’s a good young prospect who’s stepped up the past couple weeks,” Lynn said.
Flag picked up
One indignity the Chargers narrowly avoided Sunday was losing another touchdown because of a penalty.
Desmond King’s 68-yard punt return was upheld only after officials waved off a flag that had been thrown, apparently for what initially was thought to be an illegal block.
“I mean, the thought crossed my mind,” Lynn said of having another score wiped out. “I’m glad they picked it up. I wish that would have helped us win the game, but …”
The Chargers have had four touchdowns nullified by penalties this season.