He left the Wild-Card playoff battle with the Cincinnati Bengals in the second-half and saw very little action down the stretch, but the San Diego Chargers desperately need a healthy Ryan Mathews for their Divisional matchup against the Denver Broncos.
Most believe that Philip Rivers under center is the guy who makes the offense run, but the truth is that this team goes the way of the running game. One needs to look no further than the Bolts’ two matchups with the Broncos already this season for evidence of this very point.
When Denver visited San Diego back on Nov. 10, the Chargers controlled the time of possession battle quite decisively with 38:03 to the Broncos’ mere 21:57. Though the running game found success with 131 yards combined between the various ball carriers on the afternoon, the leading rusher in terms of yards and attempts was Mathews’ 14 carries for 59 yards. His inability to establish a rhythm and keep the opposing defense honest allowed them to sit on certain routes and prevent Rivers from having a variety of open options. Needless to say, that meeting finished 28-20 in favor of Denver.
Fast-forward to a midweek affair at Mile High on Dec. 12 where a desperate Bolts team came in looking to keep slim playoff hopes alive. The time of possession margin was nearly identical at 38:49 to 21:11, but the big difference was the rhythm established on the ground. Mathews had a staggering 29 carries (season-high) for 127 yards to just pound the Denver defense into submission. This outing kept Peyton Manning where he’s easiest to defend – on the sidelines.
Obviously an injury to Mathews would derail any hopes the Chargers have of pulling off a repeat performance this weekend in Denver, but the running back told U-T San Diego:
“My mindset is I’m playing.”
Injury reports and doctors’ orders aside, it seems like the ankle injury that Mathews has been battling through down the stretch is of the fickle variety. Once he gets into the flow of battle it’s fine until the wrong hit of a misstep causes it to flare up again. In the biggest game of his career as a Bolt – Mathews had never even been to the playoffs until this season – there’s no doubt he will be strapping up and hitting the gridiron.
Though Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown did quite well to close out the Bengals this past weekend, the Chargers know Mathews is their ticket to the AFC Championship. Without him any hopes of continuing this improbable run basically evaporate, so getting their lead back into tip-top shape heading into Sunday will be critical.