ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After Melvin Gordon's first 100-yard game as a Bronco, he predicted his play would continue to get better as the year continued.
"I get better as the season goes on," said Gordon after the team's Week 4 win over the New York Jets.
That's proven true in the late stages of 2020, as Gordon has rushed for 339 yards and 6.2 yards per carry over the past four weeks. Gordon posted a 131-yard effort against the Chiefs in Week 13 and scored a pair of touchdowns in Denver's Week 15 loss to the Bills.
"He's running hard," Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday. "He's a decisive, no-nonsense, physical back. … [I've] always been a big fan of his.
"… He's going to get a lot of work obviously, without [Phillip] Lindsay."
Gordon's 16 carries against the Chargers in Week 16 were the fourth most he's had since joining the Broncos, and he's continued to make the most of his opportunities. He averaged 4.94 yards per carry against the Chargers, his seventh game this year in which he averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry.
With another strong performance against the Raiders, Gordon could reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second time in his career. He currently has 893 rushing yards through Week 16.
"I think it'd be great if he got to 1,000 yards and that was a part of a victory for us," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Wednesday. "We like Melvin, he's a good running back, he was a good running back before we got him and he's still a good running back. He runs hard. He's a very good back in this league. He was before and he still is."
Gordon has also scored nine total touchdowns, and he has rushed for at least eight scores in each of the last five seasons.
And yet, Gordon hasn't been entirely pleased with his own play.
"As far as the 1,000 yards, it's always an accomplishment to get 1,000 yards, but honestly I feel like my play is better than just 1,000 yards," Gordon said. "It's not really the season I wanted. It's not the season I wanted individually or team-wise, but definitely looking forward to changing that next year. We have the young team — everybody knew that — it's not an excuse. Coming here, them getting to know me, knowing how I run, what I like to run and everything. Being close to 1,000 — I haven't got 1,000 yet. I've got to 997 [in a season] before and missed it, so excuse me if I'm not as amped as I should be, but I feel like I'm way better than that."
Gordon hopes he's able to remain in Denver in 2021 to demonstrate that higher level of play, but he declined to answer whether he expects a potential suspension for a DUI citation earlier this season would impact his contract or roster status.
"My job is to go out there and run that ball, so that's what I'm going to do," Gordon said. "As far as the contract and all that stuff, I let my agent handle all that — the void and all that stuff. Hopefully I did enough for them to want to keep me here. I do feel like they have something special here growing and I definitely want to be a part of it. Especially after this year, it just wasn't the year we wanted and I feel like we have a lot more proof to show. Being a part of this Broncos family, honestly I just really don't think I got the full experience of Denver as a whole, just with the COVID rules and everything. I couldn't really bond with the guys as much as I wanted to or as much as I'd like as far as just being with the guys after we leave the facility. I didn't really get a chance to do that. Unfortunately, if I won't be here that'd be a little heartbreaking, just because I didn't feel like I really got the full feel of being a Bronco.
"But like I said, I don't want to speak too much on the contract. My job is to go out there and run that ball. That's what they pay me to do. That's why they brought me in, to make plays running that ball, protect Drew [Lock], catch the ball, do what I need to do to help this team win. I plan on doing that every game I'm here. So, we'll see. Hopefully it works out, and hopefully they like me enough to kind of put all that stuff to the side. I guess in a couple months or so we'll see what's up."
On Sunday, we'll also see if Gordon can post a high enough rushing total on Sunday to break the 1,000-yard mark. If he's able to break the barrier, it would mark the fourth consecutive season in which the Broncos have had a 1,000-yard rusher, which would be the longest active streak in the NFL. C.J. Anderson accomplished the feat in 2017, while Phillip Lindsay crossed the mark in 2018 and 2019.
LOCK THE KEY TO DENVER'S SUCCESS?
During Gordon's time with the Chargers, he played alongside a potential future Hall of Famer in Philip Rivers. Asked which traits Lock has shown that suggest he could achieve similar success, Gordon said Lock has all the physical tools.
"He's going to be a good player," Gordon said. "I see him every day throwing the football. I think he's got what it takes. I know he's got what it takes."
Lock's development, Gordon said, must continue on the mental side of the game. Gordon has faith that can still happen for the second-year player.
"I don't care how many mistakes he makes; when he's out there, I believe that he can make every throw that's needed, every call, every check," Gordon said. "I believe that he can do it. You're out there for a reason — I just got that confidence in him. You're going to make mistakes; it's part of the game. He's only played so many amount of games. He's going to get it, it's going to click for him, and we need it to click for him. I feel like we have [a] window with this team, and he is the piece that's going to make or break us."
Lock said he's always felt the pressure to perform as a quarterback, and he believes another offseason of work can help him help Denver's young offense realize its potential.
"You feel that from Day 1 when you're playing quarterback for any team," Lock said. "It's a given pressure that is put on you, but it's one that I'm excited about. It's one that I'm going to carry with me into the offseason, so I can have an offseason unlike any other. Last year with COVID and everything, it was just weird. I was at home studying the playbook on my whiteboard. The plan going into this year is extremely different, and I'm really excited for it. I'm excited to build in this offseason and come back and be the guy for this organization and stake the claim that this is a team that needs to be watched out for. We do have a window of opportunity here, and it's a big, awesome window of opportunity. I'm really excited for it."
A STRETCH TO BUILD ON
Despite the Broncos' two consecutive losses, second-year tight end Noah Fant has been a focal point on Denver's offense. He has caught 14 passes in the last two weeks, which is the most over a two-game stretch in his career. The 2019 first-round pick now has 58 catches for 625 yards and three touchdowns in Year 2.
As the Broncos prepare to face a Pro Bowl tight end in Darren Waller (98 catches, 1,079 yards, eight TDs), Fangio was asked if Fant is close to having an impact for the Broncos like Waller has had for the Raiders.
"I think he's close," Fangio said. "We like Noah. Noah is a very talented player. I think he's improved this year from last year in many areas. He's caught the ball well, he runs good with it after the catch, and he's a competitive blocker. I think he's got a chance to be in the top 10 of tight ends around the league."
Fant currently ranks eighth in the NFL in receiving yards among tight ends and seventh in receptions.
In Week 17, Fant should receive plenty of attention from the Raiders, who know the impact a tight end can have on the game.
"They're similar in that I kind of refer to those guys as jokers — they're good in any hand," Gruden said of Fant and Waller. "They can play in-line as a conventional tight end, you can put them in the slot, you can line them up at wide receiver. They can play in any formation and execute any kind of assignment. So, their versatility, their athleticism and their football savvy is very impressive. We've got to do a good job with Fant; he's a problem for us."