Although he's probably in the twilight of a stellar NFL career at 34 years old, San Diego Chargers veteran tight end Antonio Gates seems ageless.
Gates remains a formidable downfield threat, still displaying the trademark athleticism he once flashed as a basketball player at Kent State before the Chargers signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2003. Containing Gates is one of the Ravens' top defensive priorities heading into Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Definitely, he's doing everything right apparently, eating good food and finding a way to stay young," Ravens middle linebacker Daryl Smith said. "He still looks like he can run and light you up. We got a big test this week."
Gates is an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who's caught 40 passes for 491 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Gates has Hall of Fame credentials with 759 career receptions for 9,684 yards and 96 touchdowns.
"You look at the tape and you're hoping he's going to age out at some point," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We all do at some point, but he hasn't yet. He continues to adjust his game. He really does a great job of bodying up and making plays as a receiver. He's still a downfield threat. He's a go-to guy for Philip Rivers. So, he's still Antonio Gates."
Gates is averaging 12.3 yards per reception this season. He might be a tad slower than when he first arrived in the NFL but, if so, it's not much of a decline.
"It's really awesome," Rivers said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "Obviously the numbers speak for themselves, but just the way he is the same every day. He loves to compete, and I think that's what's allowed him to sustain his game and play at such a high level for so long.
"He loves to compete and hates to lose, and he brings that every day to work with him. It's been a real honor playing with him and being a part of a lot of his success. He's a heck of a guy, heck of a player."