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Chargers' Melvin Gordon extends impressive preseason run in loss to Vikings

Melvin Gordon evades Terence Newman to complete a 39-yard touchdown run Sunday against the Vikings. Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is ready to start the regular season.

The Wisconsin product created his second explosive play of the preseason, a 39-yard touchdown run set up by a great audible by quarterback Philip Rivers in a 23-10 loss on the road to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

“I liked the big touchdown run from Mel,” Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said. “That was great for him, and a great check by Philip against the pressure there.”

Gordon finished with four carries for 51 rushing yards on the day.

He also scored on a 44-yard touchdown reception from Rivers in the first exhibition game, and continued to play with more confidence on the field.

“I see him getting more and more comfortable,” Rivers said. “He’s caught a touchdown in the preseason, and he broke the big run today, and those things just build confidence.

“He’s a young back who had some injuries last year and turned it over a few times. But he’s had a great offseason. He looks healthy. He just seems comfortable and confident, and that’s big for a running back.”

The Chargers dropped to 1-2 during the preseason and 3-11-1 all-time during exhibition play against the Vikings.

QB depth chart: Rivers went 5-for-9 for 54 yards, no touchdown passes and an interception. Rivers did lead the Chargers to the team’s only touchdown drive. In about two quarters of action, backup Kellen Clemens went 9-for-15 for 77 yards. Undrafted rookie Mike Bercovici completed 4 of 12 passes for 67 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in about a quarter of work. Zach Mettenberger did not play.

Maybe that player could start: Former CFL standout Dexter McCoil had another impressive day, finishing with a game-high 10 combined tackles and also forcing a fumble. In need of a playmaker in the back end defensively, the Chargers might have to find a role for McCoil.

Who got hurt? Joe Barksdale suffered a left ankle injury in the second quarter when his own teammate Orlando Franklin fell on his leg. Barksdale left the field on his own power. The Chargers already went into Sunday’s game without the services of right guard D.J. Fluker, who is nursing a sprained right foot. Chris Hairston replaced Barksdale at right tackle. Running back Branden Oliver appeared to suffer right Achilles injury that could have ended his season. Oliver had to be carted off of the field. Running back Dreamius Smith also suffered a left leg injury in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off of the field. He did not return.

A surprise player who impressed: Outside linebacker Ben Gardener finished with a four tackles -- including a tackle for a loss -- a sack and two quarterback hits. The Stanford product has had trouble staying on the field during training camp, but made an impact against the Vikings.

When it was starters vs. starters: The Chargers looked underwhelming at first, but better as the game wore on. San Diego’s starting defense minus a healthy scratch by nose tackle Brandon Mebane was gashed on the ground by a Minnesota offense that played without running back Adrian Peterson. The only saving grace is the Chargers kept the Vikings out of the end zone with the starters on the field. San Diego’s offense failed to put up on points on the team’s two offensive drives. However, the Chargers converted twice on third down on the team’s third drive, and finished it off with a nice audible at the line of scrimmage by Rivers against the blitz, resulting in a 39-yard touchdown run by Gordon, his second of exhibition play.

One reason to be concerned: The Chargers dealt with a rash of injuries last season, and could be headed down a similar path. San Diego already lost receiver Stevie Johnson (knee) and defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (shoulder) for the year. Oliver also is out indefinitely. The Chargers can’t afford to lose many more frontline players if they are going to compete for a playoff spot.

Darius Philon flashes: The second-year pro out of Arkansas will fill-in for Joey Bosa until the rookie defensive end signs his deal. Philon was solid, notching his first sack in the preseason and finishing with three combined tackles, including a tackle for a loss. Philon also finished with three quarterback hits.