Antonio Gates feared the worst. When the Chargers tight end began to feel dizzy and lightheaded early last week, symptoms that prevented him from practicing Wednesday and Thursday, his mind began to spin.
Gates, 38, has been around the NFL long enough to know the dangers of the sport, how vulnerable players are to serious brain injuries, and he was beginning to question his decision to return to the Chargers in August for his 16th season.
“You see your whole career [flash] before your eyes when you start feeling the things I was feeling the last couple of days,” Gates said after catching three passes for 45 yards in Sunday’s 35-23 loss to the Rams in the Coliseum. “It was scary. It just felt weird.”
Gates was ultimately diagnosed with vertigo, which is caused by problems with the inner ear or brain, and not a concussion. His symptoms began to subside with rest. He returned to practice Friday and showed no ill effects Sunday from the condition.
All three of Gates’ catches from quarterback Philip Rivers came on third-down plays that the Chargers converted into first downs.
His first — on a third and four from the Rams’ 31-yard line midway through the second quarter — netted 27 yards, Gates shaking safety John Johnson and finding an open spot as Rivers was flushed out of the pocket.
That extended a drive that Melvin Gordon capped with an 11-yard touchdown run that pulled the Chargers within 21-13.
Early in the third quarter, Gates made a nice running catch of a pass near his shins on a crossing route for a 13-yard gain on third and four from the Chargers’ 31-yard line, but Keenan Allen fumbled the ball away on the next play.
“With the time Philip and I have spent together, we’ve built a chemistry over years and years,” said Gates, who has caught 87 of his 114 touchdown passes from Rivers. “He puts me in the best positions possible. He makes the game so much easier.”
So does playing with the peace of mind that Gates had after his vertigo diagnosis.
“I’ve never had it before, but it’s pretty common,” Gates said. “Having played for 16 seasons, you start questioning certain things when you start feeling a certain way, but fortunately I’m great. My body’s great, and I was able to bounce back.”
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