Another Division Game Lies Around the Bend

It's a one-two punch which gives the Chargers' offense plenty of wallop. And that combination will be on display Sunday when the Chargers continue their three-game swing against AFC West foes with a game at Kansas City.

While San Diego's running game has been sporadic this year, the same can't be said of the play from tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

Gates' resume is well-known as the five-time Pro Bowler has been among the elite players at his position for some time. But even by Gates' high standards, he is getting off to a solid start. And a big reason for Gates' production is his health. After being slowed by ankle, toe and foot ailments the past two seasons, Gates is fit.

"Confidence comes with the way you feel," Gates said. "It goes back to playing through pain after surgeries. You're still trying to build back to where you started.

"It's like a car, where you fix a problem but it still doesn't drive the same. You put the pieces together so it's as normal as possible. That's how my body works, and I want to get back to where I was early in my career, when I could make plays and I felt like nobody could stop me."


WR Vincent Jackson
Harry How/Getty
Complementing Gates on the outside is Jackson, who continues to emerge as one of the NFL's rising stars. Between them, Gates and Jackson were averaging 180.5 receiving yards per game heading into Monday night's game against the Broncos. That topped more than eight other teams' entire per-game passing production.

"I think they work well together," coach Norv Turner said. "Outside the scheme, those guys make a lot of plays by beating the man they're matched up against."

Jackson, whose contract expires at the end of the season, takes advantage of room outside with defenses concerned about Gates over the middle. And Gates said Jackson's consistency helps him as well.

"They have to pay a lot of attention to Vincent and our entire receiving corps, which might be the best I've worked with since coming into the league," Gates said. "It's a load off of (me), and it's just a matter of making plays when you have the chance."

The Chargers are in the midst of their big chance to stay in the AFC West race. After tangling with the Chiefs on Sunday, they will entertain the Raiders the following week. It figures to be the play of Gates and Jackson leading the way.

But Jackson's game is more than just as a receiver. He has worked hard and evolving into a well-rounded pass-catcher, who is just as comfortable run-blocking.

"There are so many weapons on this team and only one ball," Jackson said. "So I try to do whatever is asked of me in the run and the passing game. The goal is to be as dynamic a receiver as possible. I'm not just a home-run threat. I want to be a third-down guy and a possession receiver. I want to do it all."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

-- OLB Antwan Applewhite is having a hard time shaking a hamstring injury that has bothered him since the opener. Applewhite could return against the Chiefs.

-- ILB Stephen Cooper, the team's leading tackler, is wearing a brace in games because of a knee injury.

-- ILB Tim Dobbins is expected to get more snaps while Cooper is less than 100 percent.

-- SS Kevin Ellison, a sixth-round pick out of USC, is picking up playing time, along with SS Steve Gregory, with the release of Clinton Hart. The team hopes Ellison is the long-term answer at the position.

-- DE Vaughn Martin, a rookie, could seem his playing time decrease with the addition of Ian Scott and the return of Travis Johnson, who had been sidelined with a groin injury.


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