Antonio Gates is one of the best tight ends in the league. Unless, that is, he's going up against Bill Belichick's Patriots defense.
Gates, who is the San Diego Chargers primary weapon and one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league was held to zero catches and only one target in the Chargers' loss to the Pats on Sunday.
And that's what Bill Belichick does. He finds the thing you do best, and then he takes it away from you. (No catch for you!)
It was clear that Gates, a seven time Pro-Bowler was the main focus of a Pats defense. Linebacker Patrick Chung was on him most of the game, with Sergio Brown chipping in from time to time to completely shut him down.
Now, that's not to say that the loaded Chargers didn't have some success. Vincent Jackson had 10 catches for two touchdowns and 172 yards, but shutting down Gates clearly changes the profile of the Chargers offensive game plan.
Antonio is Rivers favorite third-down target. With his enormous body, Gates boxes out like a basketball player and is tough to stop, making it all the more impressive that the Pats were able to achieve their goal.
If there's anything that the Chargers can take away from this loss, it's that they were in it to almost the end and they played poorly.
Mike Tolbert, who was the hero in last week's win against Minnesota, had a momentum-killing 4th quarter fumble took the wind out of the Chargers' sails as they were driving to tie the game and clearly had a chance to make it a ball game.
For some reason, Tolbert didn't drive forward into the line, which seemed like would have been an easy four-to-five yards. Instead, he stopped, went backwards, and had the ball knocked out of his hands. That turnover, coupled with their inability to punch the ball in on a 4th and goal, which Tom Brady promptly turned into a 99-yard scoring drive that put the game out of reach.
But shutting down a team's most powerful offensive weapon has become his calling card. No one else takes away what your team does best quite like he does. It comes in handy becasue so few teams do many things well in this league of parity. Look at the Patriots themselves. If you can take away Tom Brady (a feat much easier said than done), they don't have a very solid run game to fall back on.