No stopping Chargers' tight end Antonio Gates

There is some concern on the Saints sideline regarding San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. The Raiders had a mission to contain him and Gates went out and caught two touchdown passes. It isn't as easy as it sounds.

Now more than ever, the Chargers can exploit the favorable matchups that the opposition puts on Antonio Gates. Early in the year, Gates was just coming into his own and while the population of San Diego knew he had talent, he was a relative unknown.

Things change as the season progresses and Gates has gone from unknown to feared.

"You have to make some adjustments when you're not a secret anymore," said Gates.

Adjustments come in many forms. From the preparation he puts in during the week to the addition of Keenan McCardell and the continued solid play from Drew Brees. All are contributing factors to the success Gates is enjoying.

"When he began to play a little more last year there was evidence that this young man could be special and to breakout this far, I would be less than candid to say that I expected it, because I really didn't know," coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

Now, however, every team knows who the former Kent State basketball player is and there remains little they can do to stop him. It helps to have LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield but the work has been consistent from Gates even when the wideouts weren't catching passes.

It has been the progression of the offense as a whole that has continued to allow Gates to exploit the opposition.

"What we've been able to do is create some good, solid protection for our quarterback," said Schottenheimer. "As the quarterback plays better, it enhances the opportunities for any numbers of these guys and certainly, we and Antonio have been the beneficiary of that."

"Definitely, those guys deserve a lot of credit," Brees said in reference to the offensive line.

With the light shining on the tight end who is tied for second in the NFL in catches, he looks to the work of his fellow mates as the reason for his success.

"It is a compliment to the whole team," Gates said. "The coaches do a tremendous job in preparing us."

But how does that explain his propensity for coming up with the big play on third down? Among tight ends, he leads the league with his 34 catches for first downs. That total is second among all receivers and ties him for ninth in the league when running backs are thrown in. All five of his catches against the Raiders resulted in first downs.

His 18 third down catches are tied for the lead with Randy McMichael but Gates has tossed in three touchdowns compared to McMichael's one.

"He is a great matchup for us," Brees said of his desire to go to Gates in clutch situations.

For the year, Gates leads the Chargers in all major receiving categories with 49 receptions for 546 yards and five touchdowns.

"When the ball is thrown to me, I'm in an attack mode," the former basketball player said. He references his ability to use his body to his advantage and facing guys who are four to six inches shorter than him is not quite the same challenge as boxing out guys who are four to six inches taller as he did in college when he was playing hoops.

But what is missed in all this is his speed. He is deceptive with his huge frame. Not only can he put his body in the best position to receive the ball, but he also creates separation. Years of running the hard court have made his conditioning near its peak and he can turn on a jet or two to get that extra room to make plays.

Last week against Oakland, he made a catch that would make a wide receiver cringe. Gates streaked up the sideline and ???

It was just a few weeks ago that Carolina head coach John Fox admitted he knew nothing of Gates until he saw him on film. Times they are a changing.

"He's a talented kid; he's played one year in the NFL and didn't play before that," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "He played in high school, he was a basketball player at Kent; he's very athletic, can jump out of the roof and he's fast. He's their go-to guy and he can do almost anything he wants to do.

"He's a much better blocker than I would have guessed watching him on film."

Gates is on the cusp of greatness. There was a small sampling of his talent late last year and in just his second year in the league he is blossoming.

The crazy part of it all is he is just beginning to taste what he can do on the NFL stage.

"Antonio Gates is continuing to grow daily," says his coach.

Gates, ever the politician, continues to say it is a team effort that will propel him further.

"We have a great group of guys in this locker room who are going to continue to work hard," Gates said.

But for Gates, everything has seemed to come naturally. As the Chargers continue to mesh on offense, Gates could become an ever bigger force.

Lightning Quicks:

  • Rookie K Nate Kaeding, who has missed but one FG attempt, didn't know much about the troubles the Chargers had in replacing Carney. Wade Richey was a disaster, and Steve Christie had mixed results.

    "Once you get here, you learn about it pretty fast," Kaeding said. "I can't think about the history. I just focus on things I can control."

  • SD Super Chargers Top Stories