When the San Diego Chargers signed free agent running back Donald Brown to a 3-year deal in March, many speculated that the move was the writing on the wall for RB Ryan Mathews, whose contract expires after this season. Others believed it was a pricey insurance policy should Mathews go down with an injury.
But nobody could have imagined how important the Brown signing would be until RB Danny Woodhead stayed laying on the field after his first carry of the day on Sunday versus the Buffalo Bills. Initial reports have a high ankle sprain and a broken fibula, an injury likely costing Woodhead the rest of his 2014 season.
In consecutive weeks, the Chargers lost RB1 and RB2 for an extended amount of time.
Luckily, San Diego Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco didn’t think twice about having a crowded backfield and being prepared for a what-if scenario that actually came true.
"You look at the off season, and I didn’t wonder, but some people wondered why we went and got another back, they got a couple backs and thank goodness we did," Quarterback Phillip Rivers said. "That’s already shown to be a good move here early in the season."
Brown’s first game as the starter was not spectacular, but it was impressive, especially for someone who never fulfilled his potential as a featured back. Brown only averaged 2 yards a carry, rushing 31 times for 62 yards. But, adding his 5 receptions for 27 yards, you'll see that Brown accounted for 36 of the teams 63 offensive plays, while playing 59 snaps. (In five seasons with the Chargers, Mathews has never had more than 29 carries.)
That’s production to the tune of a 57% clip for those calculating the math. Brown may have expected an increase workload, but even he may not have dreamed that many plays before he went to sleep on Saturday.
"He sucked it up," Head Coach Mike McCoy said after the game. "He didn’t want to come out either, so I give him a lot of credit. That’s what we do it the way we do it. They all work through training camp and the off-season and they work extremely hard. He’s going to make the most of this opportunity."
But with the offense lacking 2 valuable cogs, the next man up mentality is once again being spoken from the Chargers.
"We are going to have to [stay balance], we aren’t going to have those guys for the next few weeks at least," Rivers said. "We are going to have to and Donald is going to have to be the work force, Branden (Oliver) stepped up and he got his feet wet today with some carries and had a couple good runs. Guys are going to have to step up and we have to stay balanced."
After the game, Brown was still in his team first mind-set.
"I feel good, tomorrow I’ll probably be sore but whatever it takes to get a win," Brown said. "We knew it was going to be a grind and it was."
Beginning Monday, Brown will have a few days to stretch out the bruises and get his body right. Come Sunday, he’s the next man up. Again.