Antonio Gates: How Is He Still Open?

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Dec 13, 2018; Kansas City, MO, USA; Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) catches a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Antonio Gates is one of the most prolific tight ends in NFL history. His career numbers currently stand at 952 receptions, 11,820 yards, and 116 touchdowns (NFL record for tight ends). Gates will undoubtedly cruise into the Hall-of-Fame and finish as one of the best at his position.


But at 38 years old, Gates is bigger, slower, and definitely lacks the stamina he used to possess. Yet, he continuously finds himself open when it matters most.

The clip above is from a fourth and nine conversion against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. If the Chargers failed to convert, the game would have been over and their losing streak to Kansas City would continue. And although Rivers made an incredible throw to Travis Benjamin, he also had Antonio Gates in the other slot for an easy 10+ yards. And the crazy thing (and this comes up in a few clips) is that Gates is being covered by a cornerback. A player that is trained to keep up with speedy wide receivers can’t keep up with a 38-year-old tight end who wasn’t even supposed to play this year. Because it’s not like Gates boxed him out and had position, he just left the man in the dirt with a stutter-step fake to the outside and then a cut back in. And by that time he was open and it would have been too late for the defender to gain back his ground.

From the same game, Gates actually does make the catch this time for a crucial third down when Los Angeles was down 14. And once again, Gates leaves his opponent in the dust with a stutter-step and impeccable out route. And how about the footwork throughout the entire play? These days, it’s pretty rare for Gates to get many yards after the reception. But here, he creates enough separation during his route so that after it, he is able to recognize the defender is in a straight collision course with him, does a quick hop back and is able to gain another 10 yards. An all-around veteran play by a living legend.

This is from last year when Gates scored his 112th touchdown to break Tony Gonzalez’s record for most touchdowns by a tight end. Another reason Gates tends to get open these days is because the defense just forgets about him. With so many other threats on the field, Gates is great at finding holes in zone coverages and it’s very rare you see him drop a ball.


Basically, Antonio Gates at 38 years old is still annihilating opponents when it matters most. Whether it’s against linebackers, cornerbacks, or safeties, opponents just can’t seem to handle the footwork and route-running Gates possesses. And if the Chargers are going to make any sort of deep run into the playoffs, Gates will need to be on the field for must-need conversions, even if Hunter Henry is back.

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