The Los Angeles Chargers are fighting for their playoff lives and face games against the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders to close out the season.
Those are both winnable games but the Chargers are facing a familiar problem in having an extensive injury report. Several players were hurt in last week’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chargers will be without their services.
One of the players who left that game was Hunter Henry, the second-year star who has clearly become the top tight end for the team. But the Chargers happen to have one of the best tight ends in league history still on their roster and they will need to call upon him to produce in the next two weeks.
Antonio Gates has just 20 receptions for 189 yards this season, his least productive year in the league since he was a rookie back in 2004. At 37 years old, his best days are no doubt behind him, but Gates could still offer something in this final playoff push.
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He doesn’t run as fast as he once did, but he knows how to get open and his familiarity with Philip Rivers is huge. Rivers knows Gates is a guy he can count on. He hasn’t been targeted more than five times in any game this season and against the Jets and Raiders, he’ll need to see that number go up.
Gates can still get it done. Against the Chiefs, he had one of the Chargers’ two touchdowns in the game and on that play, we saw a perfect example of how well he and Rivers work together.
Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and even Travis Benjamin will be the preferred targets in the passing game for Rivers but Henry’s loss is a big one so Gates needs to step up.
And what a fitting potential end that would be to his great career. It was fairly obvious that Gates came back to break the tight end touchdown record. But now, he has a chance to help get the Chargers to the postseason. That should be enough motivation, right?
Does Gates, who needs three receptions to crack the top 20 on the all-time list, have another big game in him?