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Keeping Balance Is the Mathews Way

Chargers rookie runs on all limbs

By Michael Gehlken
|  Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010  |  Updated 7:18 AM PDT
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Images: Philip Rivers

AP

San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews in Dec. 12 game against the Kansas City Chiefs in San Diego.

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A stubbing of the toe into a door. A tripping over a shoe in the middle of the night.

By his own admission, Chargers running back Ryan Mathews can be “a little clumsy” at home, which makes him guilty of nothing more than normalcy, the occasional uncoordinated moments that provide evidence he is human.

Then he steps onto a football field and you start to wonder.

Mathews rushed the ball 16 times for 65 yards and a score in Sunday's 31-0 win over the Chiefs, the expected productivity of a touted rookie running back. Only he didn't look like one, gaining extra yardage in an exhibit of body balance that less resembled Paul Hornung than it did Paul Hamm.

A gymnast in shoulder pads, the 6-foot, 218-pound Mathews had the footwork of a foxtrot savant, contorting his body to angles that would make a protractor jealous.

In the third quarter, the absorption of contact sent his feet flying 5 feet into the air. He seemed doomed to lose 4 yards, but he stuck his landing and scampered back to the line of scrimmage.

In the fourth quarter, he was tripped up when turning the right corner on a run. The play appeared lost, but he jabbed his right hand into Qualcomm Stadium's turf for leverage and ran 15 yards for a touchdown.

Most running backs only stiff arm defenders. Matthew stiff arms the ground in what is becoming his signature move.

“I just run,” Mathews said. “It's all natural. Get what you can. That's what is. I've just been blessed with the ability to stay on my feet like that.”

The trait that defines the Mathews family. The story that has become nationally known.

Born in 1987. Raised by a single, 16-year-old mother. Lived for months in a 1969 Oldsmobile during the early period of infancy. Watched his mother not give in. Watched her work as many as three jobs to support him.

On Sunday, when Mathews played healthy for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain in the second game of the season, he ran with his mother's conviction.

“There were a couple plays where he certainly should have been” tackled, quarterback Philip Rivers said. “But his relentless effort kept him alive.”

So is the Mathews way.

Past the door. Past the shoe. Past defenders.

Second efforts spark double-takes.

“Sometime I look and I'm like, 'Man, he got caught for a 2-yard loss,'” said running back Mike Tolbert. “Then the next thing I know he's scoring a touchdown. To have that kind of balance at running back is a tremendous asset, and I'm glad he's on our team.”

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