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Mathews Back to Old Self in Defeat
It was starting to look like perhaps 2012 could be one of “those” seasons for running back Ryan Mathews; the kind where nothing seems to come easy or go right.
After breaking his collarbone on the first carry of the preseason against the Green Bay Packers, Mathews was forced to miss the remainder of the preseason and the first two games of the regular season.
In his debut against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3, Mathews fumbled inside the 5-yard line on a run that would have potentially given the Chargers a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter, but instead swung momentum back to Atlanta. It was Mathews’ 11th fumble in 27 career games, yet this one seemed more significant than previous ones.
With Jackie Battle having a strong start to the season, Mathews lost touches to his fellow running back in Week 4 vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. That remained the case early on against the New Orleans Saints Sunday night, but it did not stop him from enjoying his finest game of the season.
Mathews rushed for 80 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries to go along with six receptions for 59 yards.
“Ryan was outstanding,” Chargers head coach Norv Turner said. “Everything I’ve said about him in the offseason, everytime he’s had adversity, he’s come back stronger. People want to count him out or say, ‘Hey, you can’t count on this guy,’ but he’s come back stronger.”
Mathews’ impact was felt almost immediately after he entered the game.
On the ensuing drive after New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas’ record for consecutive regular-season games with a passing touchdown, Mathews quieted the loud Superdome crowd. He scampered 18 yards down the left sideline to give San Diego breathing room after starting the drive at its own six-yard line.
Following a strong first half, Mathews’ biggest play of the night came on the Chargers’ first drive of the second half. After an interception by cornerback Quentin Jammer put San Diego deep in New Orleans territory, Mathews took a handoff around the left side and dove over a Saints’ defender for a 13-yard touchdown. The score gave the Chargers a 24-14 lead.
“I felt better out there,” he said following the game. “It started to feel more like last year. I wish it would have happened in a win, but I did feel better out there.”
Mathews continued to break off big gains the rest of the night, adding a 12-yard run midway through the third quarter and a 14-yard reception in the fourth quarter for good measure.
“You can’t ask for more than he gave tonight,” Turner said. “I told him the Wednesday we met after the Atlanta game, I expect him to be one of the league’s leading rushers.”