CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Opposing defenses are learning that Austin Ekeler is just as effective a running back as Melvin Gordon for the Los Angeles Chargers.
The second-year running back scored his third touchdown of the season on a 44-yard swing pass from Philip Rivers to lead the Chargers to a 26-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
“He’s got some juice now. He can really run,” Rivers said. “I think he’s one of those, you don’t realize how fast he is running until you have to chase him, which I never have, but I’ve seen a lot of guys do it. That was impressive.”
Ekeler, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, made two Oakland defenders miss at the Raiders 40, got a block from Keenan Allen and then went up the left sideline, putting the Chargers ahead for good.
“Moves into open space, that’s how you can make your money in this league as a running back,” Ekeler said. “That’s where I think I excel and what I’m going to keep doing, winning one-on-ones.”
Ekeler has 410 yards from scrimmage, with 207 coming via receptions. He has six touchdowns in his career and is three away from tying Dan Reeves for most TD catches by an undrafted player in his first two years in the league. Reeves had nine with Dallas 1965-66.
“You wish we would have signed him. He’s running hard, he’s making people miss,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “He has the flexibility to line up in the backfield or in the slot. He’s a sharp customer who knows how to play the game.”
Ekeler and Gordon are averaging 201 yards from scrimmage for the Chargers. Gordon is third among NFL running backs at 119 yards per game, and Ekeler is 12th at 82.
Gordon had 120 yards from scrimmage against the Raiders (58 rushing, 62 receiving), including a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to put the Chargers up 17-3.
Rivers was 22 of 27 for 339 yards with two touchdowns and a 143.4 passer rating. He completed passes to seven players, but as he noted, no one had a big yardage day.
“It wasn’t an eight-catch, 150-yard day for anybody, but you look up and there’s 330 yards passing and a lot of guys touched the ball,” Rivers said. “It was efficient. We ran it well enough and we didn’t turn it over. When you do that you have a good chance for a win.”
By JOE REEDY, AP Sports Writer
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