There are two words that will be absent from Sunday’s Minnesota Vikings-San Diego Chargers game that, from the looks of things, have to date been unspoken.
In a Voldemort sort of way, Vikings defensive players aren’t making a big thing out of Gates not being on the field Sunday.
The reality is that, of all the players that won’t be involved in the Vikings-Chargers game, perhaps nobody will be missed more than Gates.
He is to Philip Rivers what a blanket is to Linus. Security.
Gates is serving a four-game suspension to start the 2015 season for a violation of the performance-enhancing drug policy. Playing the Vikings in Week 3 falls under that window of opportunity. It’s wide open spaces for the Vikings defense – no fences and, more importantly, no Gates.
Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner is going to be asked today about his role in creating an offense around a playmaking tight end, but Gates was a made man long before Turner was brought on as head coach. Rivers, on the other hand, was instrumental in making Gates a lock as a Hall of Famer, but even he can’t take the credit for making Gates into a star.
Who does that credit belong to?
Rivers was part of the Eli Manning draft uneasiness that generated a trade in 2004 to make Rivers the heir to the throne of then-struggling starter Brees. At the time, Chargers fans were disenchanted with the “other guy” selected in the LaDainian Tomlinson draft. San Diegans had no problem letting Brees waft out the door and anoint Rivers to be the man.
The only problem? Brees was still under contact and had the best two seasons of his career to that point with Rivers breathing down his neck from the wings as an understudy ready to replace him.
In his final season with the Chargers, Brees led the team to the playoffs – only to suffer a brutal shoulder injury that gave the organization a convenient out to cut him loose in free agency and sign with New Orleans. Miami and new coach Nick Saban were also interested at the time, but they had bigger plans. Instead of signing Brees with no compensation to the Chargers, the Dolphins opted to give up a second-round draft pick for a rehabbing Daunte Culpepper.
That decision has been rendered largely moot by history. But Brees started establishing Gates as a staple of the Chargers offense and what Rivers inherited is undeniable. In their only full season together, Gates was on the receiving end of 81 passes for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns from Brees.
Gates has never looked back.
Flash forward 11 years. When Rivers throws Gates his next touchdown pass, it will be the 100th of Gates’ career. The only certainty is that it won’t happen against the Vikings.
When Rivers has needed a first down from the day he became the starter in San Diego, he has looked to Gates. In the red zone needing a touchdown, he has looked to Gates. He won’t have that option on Sunday.
As the Chargers travel two time zones east to play the Vikings on Sunday – 10 a.m. San Diego time – they come to Minnesota with difference-makers on both sides of the ball. But they are without the one player who pre-dates Rivers, Turner and is the last remnant of the Brees era in San Diego.
All teams miss players that aren’t with them in their time of need. But it can be argued that the missing somebody on San Diego’s roster will be the player most missed when the Chargers tried to pull off a non-conference road win.
In the spirit of Voldemort, he must not be named, but his absence will be a key for both the San Diego offense missing him and the Vikings defense looking to shut them down.