'Bell cow' Gordon surging in second season with Chargers

SAN DIEGO (AP) Melvin Gordon is quickly making people forget his disappointing rookie season.

The San Diego Chargers' second-year back rushed for a career-high 196 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run to lead the Chargers to a 43-35 victory Sunday against Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans, who still haven't won in San Diego since 1990.

Gordon leads the NFL with 11 touchdowns, nine rushing. He has three 100-yard games, including two straight.

During a frustrating rookie year, he failed to score and had no 100-yard games.

''Whenever you have a running back with that kind of potential, and see him realize it, it's cool,'' right tackle Joe Barksdale said. ''You feel good for Melvin, you feel good for the team.''

Gordon's performance was so big that it drew a few animal references.

''We all know he's our bell cow back there,'' coach Mike McCoy said. ''We're going to give him the ball and let him roll.''

A week ago in Denver, the Chargers had a first-and-goal at the 2 and Gordon's number wasn't called once. Philip Rivers threw four straight incomplete passes and the Chargers lost 27-19.

Cornerback Brandon Flowers, who intercepted Mariota and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown, understands how Gordon can wear down a defense.

''That's why we try to get three-and-outs so often because we're feeding our horse right now,'' Flowers said. ''Melvin Gordon is playing outstanding football right now. We've just go to keep feeding our horse.''

Unlike some games earlier this year, the Chargers (4-5) sealed the deal.

"We're just working hard,'' he said. ''That's been our goal since OTAs, training camp to now, and that is just to finish. Finish, finish, finish the game.''

BALLOT BOWL: The Chargers won two days before the team will ask San Diegans to approve a ballot measure that would provide $1.15 billion via an increase in the hotel occupancy tax to help fund a $1.8 billion stadium and convention center annex downtown. The measure needs a two-thirds supermajority to pass. Polls show it might not get 50 percent. Team chairman Dean Spanos will then have to decide whether to negotiate a new deal with Mayor Kevin Faulconer or move to L.A.

MARIOTA: The Titans' second-year QB threw for 313 yards and three TDs for the Titans (4-5). Mariota, who led the Titans to a 21-19 lead by guiding two quick scoring drives on either side of halftime, helped the Chargers surge to a 12-point lead when he fumbled late in the third quarter. Dwight Lowery picked up the ball ran 43 yards for a touchdown and a 33-21 lead.

''They made a couple of great plays,'' Mariota said. ''Obviously, I can't fumble and that's going to put us in bad situations.''

With the Chargers up by eight - and with a propensity to blow late leads this year - Flowers jumped a route, intercepted Mariota and returned it 33 yards for a 43-28 lead with 4:51 left.

Running the two-minute drill to perfection, Mariota threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Rishard Matthews with 14 seconds left before halftime. The Titans got the second-half kick and Mariota quickly moved them down the field, finishing the drive with a 14-yard run on which he held out the ball to touch the pylon.

SAN DIEGO BUMMER: The Titans (4-5) have lost seven straight in San Diego since 1993, when they were the Houston Oilers. The franchise's last victory in San Diego was in 1990.

REF-RIPPING: Titans coach Mike Mularkey was unhappy about three calls against his defense on the drive capped by Gordon's go-ahead score. ''I thought they were really poorly officiated,'' he said. ''That didn't lose the game, but they need to be held accountable like we are.''

RIVERS-TO-GATES: Rivers' 13-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates in the first quarter was the 81st time they've connected, the most in NFL history between a quarterback and a tight end. It was also the 108th career TD catch for Gates, leaving him three shy of matching Tony Gonzalez's NFL record for a tight end. Rivers also threw a 6-yarder to Tyrell Williams in the second for a 16-0 Chargers lead.

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