Antonio Gates was held without a catch or target for the first time in 77 games against the Houston Texans this past Sunday.
The last time he didn't record a reception nor had the ball thrown his way came Week 2 of the 2011 season at the New England Patriots.
Even at 36 years old, Gates has been effective in his 14th season. He has five touchdowns on the year, and is just two shy of tying Tony Gonzalez (111) for the most TDs in NFL history by a tight end.
So how did Gates react to being held without a reception?
Head Coach Mike McCoy explained it was in vintage Gates fashion.
"He said, 'Hey, if that is what teams want to do (focus on me), and we keep winning and other guys have success; let's go. Let's keep winning,'" McCoy shared. "He is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. That is what the great ones do; they are unselfish. All they want to do is go out there and help the team win. They know their number is going to be called plenty of times. (Antonio) understands that. It is not the first time this has happened to him where someone tries (this game plan)."
While surprising that he went without a catch or target, it didn't shock the Bolts that the Texans focused on shutting him down. Targeted at least nine times in each of the past four games, and with a touchdown catch in three straight heading into the Week 12 clash, Gates is still a focal point of San Diego's offense. With the way Houston has dealt with him in the past, Head Coach Mike McCoy had an inkling Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel would focus on shutting down number 85.
"I had a good idea going into the game who their defensive coordinator was and what he likes to do," McCoy said. "Knowing Romeo, early on in the game you could see that they were going to try and take 85 out of the game and not allow him to do certain things against their players. And they're going to make us beat them against other players. That's something they have always done. They look at that player, and Antonio was the guy yesterday that they were going to say, 'Hey, in certain situations in the game, we are going to eliminate (him).'"
Philip Rivers shared that same belief.
"We knew we were coming into a good defense," he said. "Romeo has been in this league a long time and he did a great job taking away Antonio and he doubled him. When (Crennel) was in Kansas City, he would treat (Gates) like a punt gunner. He literally had two guys on him. I was hoping they weren't going to go to that, but they went to the next step, the first level down, which was having guys all over him and underneath him and not ever letting him get going."
Although Gates didn't record a catch, he still had a profound impact on the game. He took the field on 61% of the Bolts' offensive snaps (36 of 69). With so much attention paid to the tight end, Rivers was able to spread the ball around to his other weapons.
One play in particular that showcases Gates' impact is the team's second touchdown of the day. Houston bracketed the tight end as he curled back to the ball, leaving Tyrell Williams in one-on-one coverage to catch the 23-yard touchdown on a post route.
"You have the safety there and it was a great call at that point in time in the game," McCoy said. "Getting down there and when Ken (Whisenhunt) called the play, we understood the coverage they were in and what (Gates') job was. You saw him (attract) that safety and let Tyrell go over the top for the touchdown; one-on-one on the outside, good execution by everybody. That is something when you have a veteran like Antonio and he knows all the little details of things, what his job is on the play and being unselfish, he is going to go occupy a certain defender to open somebody else up."