CARSON, Calif. — Antonio Gates ran to an open patch of end zone, turned and leaped above a defender to snag Philip Rivers' waiting pass. The tight end stepped onto the painted grass with the ball in his hands, just as he did 111 times before.
Only this time, Gates made NFL history.
Gates caught his 112th touchdown pass as a tight end Sunday during the third quarter of the Los Angeles Chargers' 19-17 loss to Miami, breaking his tie with Tony Gonzalez for the NFL record.
"It's a great moment," Gates said. "I just haven't quite wrapped my head around it all. It's happened so fast, but I'm quite sure I'll enjoy it and just move forward."
The Chargers mobbed their prone teammate after the catch. Although the Chargers are new in town, practically everyone at StubHub Center was well aware of the landmark reached by the 37-year-old Gates when he caught the 7-yard toss from Rivers midway through the third quarter.
Gates teamed with Rivers on the 85th TD pass of their parallel careers, but their first in Los Angeles after spending their 13 seasons together in San Diego.
"He's been awesome for so long," Rivers said. "I'm just thankful that I could be a part in a lot of them — not all of them, but a lot of them."
The milestone touchdown is another remarkable achievement by the former basketball player at Kent State who never played college football, but became one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history.
He joined the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and quickly became a dependable receiver with a knack for finding the end zone, catching a career-high 13 TD passes in 2004.
Gates joined the Chargers just one season ahead of Rivers, but the tight end got a three-year head start on his career while Rivers sat behind Drew Brees. Gates and Rivers eventually teamed with Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 to begin a brilliant four-year stretch that included four straight division titles and a trip to the AFC championship game.
Gates also made his 900th reception in the first half against Miami, becoming the third tight end in NFL history to hit the mark. Only Gonzalez and Jason Witten have more.
"I think he's one of the best of all time," said Anthony Lynn, the Chargers' fourth head coach in Gates' 15 NFL seasons. "He came into the league as an undrafted free agent and has accomplished all the things that he's accomplished. To me, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I think he is the best. I was happy for him, but I wish we could have done it on a win."
Rivers made his own bit of history during a 331-yard passing performance. He surpassed Vinny Testaverde's 46,233 yards passing for 11th place in league history during the second half, finishing the game with 46,356. He will crack the NFL's top 10 if he passes Fran Tarkenton (47,003).
With Gates firmly in the record books, the Chargers are free to concentrate on fixing a season that has begun with two narrow losses. That's a hallmark of the recent Chargers, who have lost 11 games since the start of last season by eight points or fewer.
"I'm glad it was sooner than later," Rivers said of Gates' history-making catch. "I didn't want the season to keep going, and him to keep getting asked. Hopefully we can add to it now, because he's always been a big part of our red zone stuff, and he will continue to be."
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