For the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday's Week 1 matchup in Carson, Calif., is more notable for who's not there than who is. Andrew Luck's stunning retirement on Aug. 24 left a 6-foot-4, 240-pound hole under center for Indianapolis.
Melvin Gordon's continued holdout has left Los Angeles looking to replace a highly-skilled but injury-prone running back that provides critical balance to a pass-first attack. The late Dean Smith, the legendary North Carolina basketball coach, once said you can always play one great game without a key player. But can either team unearth the secret to making up for the potentially permanent absence of a star?
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn entertained talk about Gordon only to a point at his Wednesday availability. "Don't get me wrong, I don't want to talk about the Melvin Gordon situation, but I love Melvin Gordon," Lynn told reporters. "We're definitely a better team with Melvin, but he's not here right now. I have to get these guys ready to play this team because this is a very talented team coming in here Sunday."
Not as talented now as the Colts were last month before Luck grew tired of the cycle of injuries and rehabilitation. A shoulder injury knocked him out for all of the 2017 seasons, and ankle and calf injuries kept him on the sideline throughout this preseason before he retired. Luck's last year was his best. He won Comeback Player of the Year after completing 67.3 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, helping the Colts earn a wild-card spot and reach the AFC divisional round.
Indianapolis will turn to Jacoby Brissett, who started 15 games for it two years ago when Luck was shelved. Brissett, who inked a two-year, $30 million extension on Monday, is backed up by Brian Hoyer. He was signed on Monday after being released by New England and is throwing himself into learning the playbook quickly. "I was telling Jacoby it's like, imagine studying Spanish for four years in college and then the last week before finals they're like, 'All right, here's French. Good luck. Here are the final exams on Sunday,'" Hoyer said. "So I'm just trying to figure it out."
That's not a problem for Los Angeles. Philip Rivers, 37, is aging very well, proven by 2018 in which he threw for 4,308 yards and 32 touchdowns in a 12-4 season that saw the Chargers win an AFC wild-card game in Baltimore before bowing out at New England. Rivers' receiving corps -- Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and tight end Hunter Henry, a red-zone menace when he can stay healthy -- can scare any defense. But the absence of Gordon means the combination of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will have to provide a semblance of a running attack that can keep Rivers from having to throw 35 or 40 times to win a game.
A bigger worry for Lynn is the absence of left tackle Russell Okung, who will miss the first six games with a pulmonary embolism that was discovered in June. "They go into this game without Andrew Luck, but I go into this game without one of the best-left tackles in the game," Lynn said.
The Chargers are also without safety Derwin James, who earned first-team All-Pro honors as a rookie, for the first few months of the season due to a foot fracture. Another likely absence is kicker Michael Badgley, who picked up a groin injury on Friday and has been ruled doubtful. Punter Ty Long is expected to handle kicking duties if necessary.
--Field Level Media
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