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Antonio Gates proves doubters wrong with longevity

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Antonio Gates wasn't supposed to be good anymore.

It was more than three years ago that a Chargers source reportedly said the veteran tight end looked "old and fat" and was showing signs of decline. It was a disrespectful thing to say about one of the franchise's great players, and it looks especially silly as Gates has remained relevant in the seasons that followed.

Gates, 34, remained Philip Rivers' trusted security blanket in 2014, finishing with 69 receptions for 821 yards and 12 touchdowns. The dozen scores were his most in a season since 2004 and made him just the fourth receiver in NFL history to have that many touchdowns after his 34th birthday.

Gates successfully managed to shake the foot issues that plagued him in the "old and fat" era and has impressively adapted his game to make up for the natural loss of speed.

"I don't even understand," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said last month, according to UT-San Diego. "I don't understand how there's no physical drop-off in his game. None. I mean, I never saw him when he was 25, but what he does off the line of scrimmage, how crafty he is and the physical skill to execute how smoothly he runs -- maybe he slowed down, but I just don't see it. I don't see any dent in the armor.

"He's so explosive off the ball. ... (Defenders) think, 'OK, I got him.' And then he's by them, and they're wondering what just happened. He knows how to create leverage. It's unbelievable physical ability and ball skills."

Last summer, we expected Gates to lose snaps and targets to Ladarius Green, a talented young tight end with playmaker skills. It certainly didn't work out that way. We'd make the same prediction again for 2015, but we're out of the Doubting Antonio Gates business. The man is on a collision course with Canton.

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