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It should not end this way for Chargers greats Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 13: Philip Rivers #17 of the Los Angeles Chargers reacts as he walks off the field after the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 13: Philip Rivers #17 of the Los Angeles Chargers reacts as he walks off the field after the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The bitter loss suffered against the New England Patriots likely hasn’t fully set in for the Los Angeles Chargers as they fly back to California.

The Chargers were thoroughly dismantled by the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday, 41-28. The Patriots led 38-7 at one point before the Chargers made it somewhat respectable.

In a game that was all but over at halftime, fans were left to wait for next season, hoping that it will be the one in which the Bolts get over the top. Within those questions lied the ones about the futures of Chargers legends Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates.

It’s tough to see a player as competitive and as passionate about the game as Rivers get so close but have the ultimate goal always seem so far away. The same applies to Gates, perhaps the greatest tight end the league has ever known.

As the Chargers delve into the offseason and start to take a look at how a team that finished 12-4 can be even better next year, questions surrounding those two veterans will be at the top of the list.

Rivers just turned 37 years old last month but has shown no indications that he is thinking about retirement. Still, logic dictates that he’s probably down to his last two or three seasons in the league.

As for Gates, who basically retired after the Chargers moved on from him this past offseason, he’s already indicated that he wants to come back. In speaking to the media following the game, Gates had this to say:

“I just don’t see myself walking away with this taste. And plus this team. I think when you add Hunter back, and hopefully, we get Jason Verrett back — shoot, the sky’s the limit. And I want to be a part of it. But that has to be a collective decision. I can’t just want to come back. So we’ll see how it goes.”

Because Henry will be healthy next year, Gates could be taken out of the plans. After all, Henry tearing his ACL in May was the only reason Gates was brought back this season.

Gates caught 28 passes for 333 yards during the season. Both of those marks led the team at the tight end position, despite him being 38 years old and seeing limited snaps. He will be 39 next summer and the team has Henry and Virgil Green.

There may be no room for No. 85, who is a sure-fire bet to get to Canton.

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But it can’t end like this, right? For these two players to never even get to play in the Super Bowl, let alone win it, is a tough pill for fans to swallow. However, that is the nature of the NFL beast.

If Gates never dons a Chargers uniform again, at least he and Rivers were able to connect for a score one more time.

In fitting fashion, despite the outcome of the game already decided, Rivers hit Gates for an 8-yard touchdown pass on the Chargers’ final offensive play of the game. On the play, Gates used his trademark basketball box-out on Patriots safety Eugene Chung to snare the pass.

It was a something to crack a grin about in an otherwise abysmal day.

If that was the last catch of his illustrious career, it was a great way for it to end. Or at least, as good as it could be, given the circumstances.

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