With Chiefs game looming, Austin Ekeler fuels Chargers' hot streak

CARSON, Calif. -- Wearing a bulky leg brace to protect his sprained right knee, Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon went through a 45-minute workout under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Damon Mitchell before his team's contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Gordon looked better than expected, keeping open the possibility for a return Thursday night. The Chargers travel to face the AFC West rival Chiefs in Kansas City (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox).

With Gordon unavailable, his replacement, Austin Ekeler, carried the load for the Chargers on offense as they held off the Bengals 26-21 on Sunday at StubHub Center.

The Chargers needed a Darius Philon sack of Cincinnati quarterback Jeff Driskel on a failed two-point conversion to avoid a tie game with 1 minute, 50 seconds to play. Rookie kicker Michael Badgley then added a 45-yard field goal for the final margin.

Ekeler kept the chains moving with 94 total yards from scrimmage, including 66 rushing yards. He also had a five-yard run for a score.

However, Ekeler suffered an unspecified injury while attempting to recover an onside kick at the end of the game, so his availability could be in question on a short week. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said Ekeler was a little dizzy after the game, so he's not sure what his injury status will be this week. Ekeler said after the game in the locker room that he was fine.

"It's important right now that we just get back to being healthy," Ekeler said. "We have to get back in there and do all of our recovery. It's a short week, so it will be a big mental week."

Behind Ekeler and Gordon, the Chargers have rookie running backs Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome, so the Bolts need their two frontline runners to get healthy on a short week.

Badgley continued to impress, making a franchise-record 59-yard field goal at the end of the first half, one of four field goals he made on the day.

"It's cool," Badgley said about the franchise record. "I was blessed with the opportunity to get a chance to come in here. My teammates and the organization welcomed me. It's awesome to be able to go out there and do something like that."

A game behind Kansas City with the Chiefs currently holding the tiebreaker, the Chargers would have a tough time earning a top-two seed at his point.

To win the division for the first time since 2009, the Chargers would need to win Thursday and have Kansas City lose one of their two remaining games (at the Seattle Seahawks or at home against the Oakland Raiders). The Chargers would also have to win out in that scenario.

The Chargers can also clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Chiefs, which would be the franchise's first since 2013. It would end the longest Bolts' playoff drought since missing eight straight postseasons form 1996 to 2003.

The Chargers have not defeated Kansas City since a 24-21 overtime victory in the final game of the 2013 season that propelled them to the playoffs that year.

"It's a huge game," said defensive end Joey Bosa, who notched his fourth sack of the season against the Bengals. "… Obviously, it's one of the best teams in the NFL and it's a prime-time game Thursday night, so it's going to be a big atmosphere, just kind of how it was last week [vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers]. So we've been there."

It will be Bosa's first shot at facing QB Patrick Mahomes, one of the MVP frontrunners.

"He's a special talent, obviously," Bosa said. "Everybody's seen what he's doing, the amount of touchdown passes and the arm that he has. But it's another week."