The All-Pro tight end will make his season debut as the Chargers visit the Denver Broncos.
While the Chargers were losing 28-24 to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, Gates was finishing a three-game suspension for missing a team-imposed deadline for ending his training camp holdout.
“Obviously I felt I let my team down because I wasn’t there to help them this past Sunday,” Gates said Wednesday. “It opens up an opportunity for us to go to Denver and take care of Denver because that was a lost opportunity. We wanted to win our home opener, and we didn’t do that.”
With Gates watching from the sideline, the Cowboys blitzed more and stacked the line against LaDainian Tomlinson so much that the star running back didn’t even touch the ball after the Chargers had a first-and-goal from the Dallas 7 with just over a minute left.
Gates, who agreed to a long-term deal three days after being suspended, spent last week on the scout team.
His teammates are glad to see him back, considering he accounted for nearly 20 percent of the offense last year, when San Diego won the AFC West with a 12-4 mark. Gates caught a team-high 81 passes for 964 yards, and his 13 touchdown receptions set an NFL record for tight ends.
“I think it definitely changes things a lot because he’s obviously one of our playmakers,” Tomlinson said. “I think our offense, hopefully, opens up a lot more and we’ll be able to get the ball down the field some and put more points on the board.”
Quarterback Drew Brees is happy Gates is once again a headache for opposing defensive coordinators.
“Because of the matchup that he creates, when we’re trying to throw him the ball, he’s able to get open in a lot of different ways against just about anybody,” Brees said.
The Broncos limp home hoping to fare better than they did in a humiliating 34-10 loss at Miami last Sunday. Denver hadn’t lost a season opener by that many points since 1966.
Coach Mike Shanahan gave a candid evaluation of his team Monday.
“In thinking about my years as a head coach and years as a coordinator, I don’t know if I’ve ever been with an offense that put as much pressure on the defense as we did in that game,” Shanahan said.
“We didn’t get anything going.”
Denver had nine drives over the first three quarters Sunday, only two of which lasted longer than five plays.
The Broncos were also hampered by injuries to cornerback Champ Bailey and starting running back Mike Anderson. Bailey has a dislocated shoulder and Anderson has separated cartilage in his ribs. However, both are expected to play. Bailey says he should definitely see action after practicing Thursday in pads.
“If I’m in pads during the week, I’m probably going to play,” Bailey said. “So, there’s no doubt that I’ll probably be out there. As long as I don’t have any setbacks, I’ll be fine.”
Anderson, who ran for just five yards on four carries before leaving last week’s game, ran without pain Friday, showing little indication he had sore ribs.
“He had a lot of reps in practice today and looked pretty good out there,” Shanahan said. “So unless there’s a setback, he should be ready to go.”