The San Diego Chargers are one game away from having their future first-ballot Hall-of-Fame tight end back on the playing field.
Antonio Gates is forced to sit out the Week 4 contest against the Cleveland Browns due to his violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
Gates has been missed. There is no doubt about that.
Upon his return, Gates will immediately assume his place as the team’s starter at tight end.
Being without Ladarius Green in Week 3, the offense struggled to get going when pressured by the Vikings’ defenders. Having Gates back in the lineup can help provide Rivers with a much-need safety valve.
Although Green filled in admirably during the first two weeks, the return of Gates will allow Rivers and the Chargers’ offense much more flexibility in the passing game.
Though not revered for his run-blocking skills, the 35-year-old does a sufficient job when it comes to helping out the offensive line in the running game.
Where he obviously makes an impact is as a pass-catching threat. His presence will hopefully help Rivers cut down on his alarming number of turnovers thus far through the 2015 season (six through three weeks; four interceptions and two fumbles).
Gates is an integral part of the Chargers’ offense. Not having him for the first four weeks is extremely hurtful to the offense’s ability to move the ball, especially when it comes to converting third downs into first downs.
Entering his 13th year in the NFL with the Bolts, the numbers that he has put up rank in him as one of the best tight ends in the history of the league.
An undrafted free agent in 2003, Gates has registered 788 for 10,014 yards and 99 touchdown receptions. He is the team’s all-time leader in all three categories. Those numbers are good to have him at fourth in NFL history in receptions and yards as a tight end. His 99 touchdown catches ranks him as second in history as a tight end. With one more touchdown catch, Gates will be only the ninth player in NFL history with at least 100 receiving scores.
Not too shabby.
It goes without saying that Gates will be welcomed back to the lineup with open arms. His innate ability to create separation, despite a decreasing speed over the last few years, provides Rivers with the optimal target when the team needs to achieve those necessary, difficult yards in clutch situations.
Gates will be watching the Chargers’ offense do its thing this upcoming Sunday against the Browns without him for the last time. I feel as though I can speak on behalf of all Chargers’ fans when I say that we are all excited to see that No. 85 jersey back on the field, making plays as he continues to climb up the rankings as one of the best tight ends to ever play in the NFL.
Not too bad for a former college basketball player.
Gates is in his contract year with the Chargers. It is difficult to determine whether or not the 2015 season will be his last with the team.
For what it’s worth, it has been a great ride, Gatesy. The city of San Diego and its fans are more than appreciative of all of your hard work on the field, and your exemplary status off the field during your time in America’s finest city. Here’s hoping you go out on top.
Thanks a lot for reading.