COSTA MESA, Calif. — Antonio Gates is looking at the back end of his career through rose-colored glasses.
At 38, Gates knows his days of 1,000-yard receiving and double-digit touchdown seasons are in the rearview mirror.
But the allure of winning an elusive Super Bowl drew Gates back in for one more magical season, as the Los Angeles Chargers, at 9-3, sit near the top of the AFC.
“It’s challenging when you become accustomed to doing something for so long and doing it at a high level,” Gates said. “But the bigger picture is not what I can do individually. It’s more about the team and what I can do to help us win, and I just need to be ready for that time, whenever it’s called.”
With only 19 catches, 239 receiving yards and two scores, he’s no longer Philip Rivers‘ No. 1 target to a spot player in an offense led by Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon, Tyrell Williams and Austin Ekeler.
“He’s been great,” Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. “I understand it. He’s very competitive. He’s one of the best tight ends ever to play this game, and when you are not doing it every snap, it’s tough.
“But I think he is realistic enough to understand too that he probably couldn’t take every snap right now. It’s been great having him, and I think we were all really excited to see some of the things he did last week.”
Gates is the Chargers’ all-time leader in receptions (946), receiving yards (11,747) and touchdown catches (116). Gates and Rivers’ 89 touchdowns during their careers is the most in NFL history by a quarterback-tight end tandem.
While the numbers are not what Gates would like, he has been targeted more of late.
Three weeks ago against the Denver Broncos, Gates finished with a season-high five receptions for 80 yards, including a 6-yard catch for a score.
“We know that getting him back [this season], he’s in this for the long haul,” Rivers said. “When we get in the game like this where [Denver] is doing some things to our receivers and you have him singled up [on man-to-man coverage], then he’s going to get some opportunities.”
Gates’ 12.6 yards per reception is his highest per-reception average since 2010, so he’s doing a better job of creating explosive plays.
In the Chargers’ comeback win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Gates had a clutch catch for a two-point conversion in the second half.
“He’s been bracketed this year,” Whisenhunt said. “A couple times. Different teams do it. Especially in the red zone, people do it.
“We’ve had that discussion ourselves about, ‘Are they going to do that?’ I can’t say it’s as much as they used to do it, but they have done it this year.”
It’s certainly not how the offseason began for Gates. The Chargers’ brass told Gates’ representation that his services would not be needed for the 2018 season, opening more opportunities for emerging tight end Hunter Henry.
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Then Henry suffered an ACL injury in May and all of a sudden the future Hall of Fame tight end’s services were needed — again.
Gates believes the Chargers did not have to put up an ultimatum about his return in free agency in February.
“I never wanted to leave — that was the dilemma,” Gates said. “I always knew we had a chance [to win a Super Bowl], which is why I wanted to come back.
“Normally when you leave, it’s not on your terms. And for a person that’s been here, done all of this and been through the wars and they didn’t want to let me leave on my own terms — there was a lot of bitterness from that perspective. Like, ‘I can’t make the team? Whoever y’all want, it doesn’t matter, but I want to be here and I can’t get a spot?’ That’s how I felt. I remember what hurt me the most is I really thought we were going to win it this year, and I’ve got to root from afar.
“I was never really crazy about the business decision they made. I thought it was early to be honest with you. I didn’t think it had any effect on anything, but I got the points when we started communicating again, and I was like, ‘All right. I don’t necessarily agree, but I understand.’”
Gates said he has moved past the hurt feelings from this offseason and is pleased to be back in the building in his traditional spot in the locker room next to his longtime teammate Rivers.
“It’s in my best interest and my team’s best interest that I continue to stay positive in terms of where we’re trying to go, because at any given moment my number can be called,” Gates said. “And I could be so caught up into things that didn’t happen in previous weeks, or things I thought I could do more or didn’t get a chance to do, and now I’m not focused on the present and I could actually make a play now. I’ve played with guys who are always complaining, complaining and complaining, but with good intentions — obviously they have a point. But when you do that, you start having this negativity and that affects you more than anything.
“You start coming here and going about your business the wrong way. You start feeling a certain way about how they’re calling the plays, or the players and the coaches. You start thinking that everybody is against you, but really the big picture is we’re trying to get to a place, and if you can help us get there, you need to do your part. I’ve been in major roles and watched guys in minor roles complain. And I said to myself I never want to be that type of teammate.”
Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph defends kicking field goal on fourth-and-1 vs. Cleveland Browns — ‘I wanted points there’
DENVER — The Denver Broncos went with math over a gut feel Saturday night, and many of their faithful left the 17-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns talking about a fourth-and-1 on which the team didn’t go for it in the closing minutes as the Broncos dropped to 6-8 and the brink of postseason elimination.
With 4 minutes, 39 seconds remaining, trailing 17-13 and with a fourth-and-1 on the Cleveland 6-yard line, Broncos coach Vance Joseph sent kicker Brandon McManus out for a field goal as boos cascaded down from the stands.
“I wanted points there,” Joseph said. “Had about 4:35 to go in the game. We had one timeout and the two-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there, OK. If we don’t get points there, a touchdown has to win it. It was my decision — take points.”
McManus made the 29-yard field goal — after a delay of game penalty — and the Broncos did get the ball back after their defense stopped the Browns deep in Denver territory, but the Broncos couldn’t move the ball past the 50-yard line to kick a game winner.
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum said he was confident that the Broncos could have converted the fourth-and-1, but he added that he was angry he didn’t get the offense in position for the game winner after the team got the ball back.
“Yes, I felt confident [we would have converted the fourth down],” Keenum said. “I wanted to convert third down. That’s what I wanted to do. [Joseph] felt like the defense would get a stop, and [we would] get the ball back, and they did. They got a stop, and we got the ball back. I can’t complain. I had the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game. That’s all you can ask for.”
Joseph said “absolutely” the Broncos’ back-to-back runs for just 2 yards and no gain on the two plays before the field goal influenced the decision.
“Absolutely, the third-down play didn’t look great, and we had points,” Joseph said. “Again, I trust our defense to get a stop the next drive, and we did … hoping we get a stop there and get the ball back.”
While the Broncos’ defense held on a Browns fourth-down play on the next Cleveland possession, that stand came at Denver’s 13-yard line after Browns running back Nick Chubb gained 53 yards on six carries on the drive. That included a 40-yard run on the first play of Cleveland’s drive.
“That last drive, what was it: 75 yards rushing?” Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “We can’t allow that.”
In five plays, the Broncos were able to go from their own 13-yard line to earn a first-and-10 at the 50-yard line with 52 seconds to play. Joseph said he believed the Broncos needed to get to the Cleveland 42-yard line, at minimum, for McManus to have a chance at a game winner.
Keenum spiked the ball on first down and threw two incompletions to give the Broncos a fourth-and-10 from the 50. Keenum took a low snap in the shotgun and was swarmed under by the Browns’ rush for a sack to end the Broncos’ chances.
“I’m still pretty emotional about it,” Keenum said. “Man, that’s what I dream about. Man, that’s what I want. I want the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game … to get that close, it pisses me off … Lot of anger at myself. There’s some plays I could make that I didn’t.”
It wasn’t pretty, but for at least one more night, the Browns are still in the playoff hunt – Cleveland Browns Blog
DENVER – The Cleveland Browns don’t care how it happened, they just care that it did.
The Browns somehow had slogged through for a 17-16 win, their fourth in five games.
And they had somehow kept their flickering playoff hopes alive.
It was a struggle — for both teams, but the Browns now hope for help on Sunday and point to Cincinnati in a home game on Dec. 23. The team is 4-2 with Gregg Williams as interim coach and Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator.
Mayfield was nowhere near as effective as he had been the previous four games, but when it mattered most he came through. After a T.J. Carrie fourth quarter interception, Mayfield hit Jarvis Landry for 12, Rashard Higgins for 16, Landry for six and then found Antonio Callaway for the touchdown that provided the winning points.
Denver would get a field goal to cut the lead to one, but Chubb broke a 40-yard run and the Browns were able to keep the ball until 1:49 remained.
Keenum got the Broncos to the 50, but a spike and two incomplete passes led to the fourth-and-10, when the Browns called blitz and Peppers came through up the middle to end the game.
Mayfield started strong, throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman on the Browns first possession. He finished 18-for-31 for 188 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception and a lost fumble.
It wasn’t a spectacular effort.
But it was a winning effort, and a Browns team that had won four games in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons combined has won four of five to keep the postseason in view. At 6-7-1, the Browns trail five seven-win teams in the standings. If the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans all win Sunday, Cleveland would be eliminated from the race. But, still, at least for Saturday night, the Browns are still alive.
That’s not a prediction many would have made when the Browns fell to 2-6-1 after Williams’ first game, or even before the season.
But that’s where the Browns are.
Believe it or not.
Von Miller eclipses Simon Fletcher as Broncos’ all-time sacks leader
DENVER — Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller has always said he considers the most important part of his job is “getting sacks and making game-changing plays,” and he has now done that more than any other player in franchise history.
When Miller launched himself through the Cleveland Browns‘ offensive line on the last play of the third quarter Saturday night and pulled quarterback Baker Mayfield to the ground, he had his 98th career sack.
Miller passed Broncos Ring of Famer Simon Fletcher, who finished his career with 97.5 sacks.
The play came at an opportune time for the Broncos, as the Browns had driven into Denver territory against a Broncos defense depleted at cornerback by injury and Jamar Taylor‘s ejection. The sack also gave Miller 14.5 for the season, the second-highest single-season total of his career.
His career high is 18.5 in 2012.
Miller was asked this past week if he thinks about awards and records down the road.
“I don’t really,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t. The thing about getting sacks, the sack race is so close right now. I’m three sacks away from [Rams defensive tackle] Aaron Donald, and the next guy behind me is just a sack away. So, it’s a tight race and every sack could mean the difference. That’s where my mindset is at right now.”
The Browns beat the Broncos 17-16.
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