With Javonte Williams out, Broncos need Melvin Gordon III more than ever

LAS VEGAS -- Melvin Gordon III, in his eighth season as an NFL running back, prides himself on understanding “what it takes’’ to do his job and do it well.

But the Denver Broncos running back finds himself in a funk because of fumbling, fighting back tears in the Broncos' locker room. And given running back Javonte Williams left the Sunday loss to the Las Vegas Raiders with a season-ending right knee injury and the Broncos play Thursday, Gordon, needs to find a way – and fast -- to get right.

“Just got to be better, man,’’ Gordon said. “Ain’t no excuse for it, I don’t want to get up here and tell you anything that ain’t right, just got to be better.’’

Gordon not only fumbled for the fourth time this season Sunday, but it came on his first carry of the game and turned into a pivotal play in what became yet another AFC West loss -- 32-23 to the Raiders -- on the road for the Broncos.

There were three minutes, 31 seconds left in the second quarter when Gordon got his first carry of the game. He knifed off right guard for 7 yards, but as he was hit by Raiders linebacker Darien Butler and safety Duron Harmon, Gordon was turned on to his back and the ball popped free before he hit the ground.

Raiders cornerback Amik Robertson scooped up the loose ball and returned Gordon's mistake 68 yards for a touchdown that turned a promising Broncos drive into Raiders territory into a six-point Las Vegas lead instead.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m trying to do too much … my job is to go out there and make plays and hold on to the ball and help put this team in the best position to win,’’ Gordon said. “And I didn’t do that [Sunday].’’

“In the end you can’t put the ball on the ground, it’s that simple,’’ Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “… We always say take care of the ball, that’s the most important thing. It’s not like he trying to do it. We understand that, we just have to be better with ball security across the board.’’

It was Gordon’s seventh fumble in his past 12 games, dating to Week 8 last season. The Broncos need Gordon to find the elixir at some point over the next 72 hours. Denver faces Indianapolis Thursday night at Empower Field at Mile High (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video) with a running back depth chart that took its biggest possible hit with Williams' injury.

Williams, who leads the Broncos in carries and rushing yards, injured his right knee on the first play of the second half. Sources said Monday Williams will have surgery in the coming weeks. Williams underwent tests, including a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam that also showed a tear in his right LCL (lateral collateral ligament), sources said.

Gordon was disconsolate after the fumble Sunday, a play that came a week after he had fumbled twice in the win over the San Francisco 49ers. The Broncos, however, had recovered both of those fumbles, including one recovery by Gordon.

He also fumbled at the Seattle Seahawks’ 1-yard line in the season opener as he tried to score on a fourth-down play in a one-point loss for the Broncos. Hackett put Mike Boone into the Broncos’ lineup immediately following Williams’ injury and Gordon received two more carries for the remainder of the game.

“I have to [bounce back] for the team,’’ Gordon said. “… I made a mistake, first guys over there to cheer me up, to get me back right, them boys believe in me, I just got to be better.’’

Boone has been the Broncos change-of-pace option for a smattering of snaps this season and has often played in some of the longer down-and-distance situations because of his ability as a receiver. It means the Broncos need Gordon, especially on a tight turnaround with limited options in the open market, to be prepared to perform.

And his teammates seemed to know it as well. Quarterback Russell Wilson, who played a season with Gordon at the University of Wisconsin, tried to begin the recovery process following the Sunday loss.

“He’s so passionate,’’ Wilson said. “I told him … 'keep reminding yourself who you are and what you’ve done in this league.' And the reality about playing this game at the highest level … there’s going to be some mistakes along the way and the best ones they respond and I believe in Melvin Gordon and I know he’s going to.

“He works his butt off every day. I believe in him, we believe in him.’’

The Broncos finished with 85 yards rushing Sunday -- 29 from Wilson -- so they have now rushed for 103 or fewer yards in three of their four games. While Hackett hasn’t endorsed any sort of run-first approach in the Denver offense, the team’s play-action passing game as well as its ability to consistently keep the pass-rushers away from Wilson depends on it.

“We’ve got to evaluate everything, we’ve got to look at it,'' Hackett said. "… You’ve got to run the football in this league, that’s my opinion, that’s our offensive philosophy and we’ve got to find better ways to run the ball.’’