NFL Nation: Randy McMichael

Observation deck: Cowboys-Chargers

August, 19, 2012
8/19/12
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The Dallas Cowboys' second preseason game was a 28-20 exhibition loss to the San Diego Chargers. Yet it gave Cowboys fans more reason to feel good then did their 3-0 preseason victory over the Raiders on Monday night. Such is life in the preseason, where everything seems much bigger and realer than it actually is.

But what we saw from the Cowboys on Saturday, when the first-teamers were in the game, was pretty good. For instance, Tony Romo had much more time to throw in this game than he did in the first one, and he completed 9 of 13 passes for 75 yards. Nothing too special, but (a) Miles Austin and Jason Witten were out with injuries and (b) the most important thing was that the line held up well enough this time for the Cowboys to actually operate their offense. On the first drive, that meant a lot of running back DeMarco Murray, who was the focal point of five of the first six plays -- three carries and two receptions. The protection and the reliance on Murray might have been the result of the Chargers devoting more of their energy to coverage than to getting into the backfield, but again, the result was that the Cowboys got to run plays this time. And I don't think it's fluky that they went to Murray a lot on that first drive. Even when everyone's healthy, I get the sense they're going to lean hard on Murray as their featured back this year. And the fact that he didn't return after that first drive is most likely because they want to keep him healthy.

Here's what else I noticed:

1. Brandon Carr looked big-time. The Cowboys' prized free-agent acquisition had two interceptions, and he flat-out worked it. On the first one, he let the receiver get past him and baited Philip Rivers into throwing the ball, then closed quickly and made the leaping interception. His play on the second one was also smart and athletic, and he showed good skills staying with the ball in spite of bobbling it a few times before securing it in his hands. Carr has been a star in offseason workouts and in training camp, and so far has done nothing to make the Cowboys question their investment.

2. Kevin Ogletree is staking his claim to the No. 3 receiver spot. Again, you can't assume that a guy will play well in the regular season because he does so in the preseason. So there's no way to know what Ogletree would do if given the role. But what we see is a guy on the verge of winning the role. He's also looked good in practice, and the performance in Saturday's game only underlines what the coaches already like about him. He caught four passes for 60 yards, including a very tough one from Kyle Orton in double coverage, and seems to be a guy to whom Romo isn't afraid to throw the ball. Cole Beasley was also a standout in this game, and he caught one from Romo as well. Most of his damage was done late, against backup defenders, but Beasley ended with 104 yards on seven catches, was targeted a team-high nine times and left it all out on the field. Literally. Worked so hard, cameras caught him throwing up on the sideline just before the end of the game. I also thought Dwayne Harris looked good as a receiver and a punt returner, and rookie James Hanna looks like a very strong pass-catching tight end. Assuming Austin comes back soon and Witten doesn't have to miss too much time, Romo should have plenty of guys to whom to throw. We haven't even mentioned Dez Bryant, who had a quiet night but still dazzled with an athletic near-catch just out of the back of the end zone. I believe he should emerge as Romo's red-zone favorite.

3. The line did play better, but David Arkin continues to have a tough preseason. Kept getting caught downfield illegally, and he's committed too many penalties in these first couple of games. The team wants Arkin to develop as a backup center, at least, but he's struggling.

4. Morris Claiborne's debut was fine, but uneventful. The rookie first-round pick made a couple of tackles and looked fine in coverage. For some reason, the Chargers seemed to want to throw in Carr's direction more than they did in Claiborne's. If Carr keeps picking off two passes a game, I have to imagine that will change. But it was good for Claiborne to get his feet wet against NFL competition.

5. Sean Lee looked like a playmaking monster, again, but I would think Bruce Carter is currently ahead of Dan Connor in the competition at the other inside linebacker spot. Connor had trouble in coverage on tight end Randy McMichael, and Carter seems like the more athletic option at this point. This is a Cowboys defense that wants to prioritize an ability to make plays on the ball, and an inside linebacker who can't cover a tight end is not likely to find himself with much of a role in that kind of a defense.

6. The Butlers did it. Linebacker Victor Butler and defensive back Mario Butler both showed good things. Victor had an early sack and pressured Rivers a couple of times. Mario looked good in coverage but missed a big tackle that led to a touchdown. Victor Butler is a guy who should be able to emerge as a helpful pass-rusher if the coaches can find snaps for him.
The San Diego Chargers continued to get work done in free agency.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that tight end Randy McMichael will remain with the Chargers, agreeing to a two-year deal.

McMichael, 32, had 30 catches in a reserve role with San Diego in 2011. McMichael has been with the Chargers for the past two seasons and is a favorite of the coaching staff.

In other AFC West news:

Oakland pass-rusher Trevor Scott signed with New England. Scott has big potential but has been slowed by injuries the past couple of years. I wouldn’t be shocked if he flourishes under Bill Belichick.

Another weapon of Peyton Manning’s weapons in Indianapolis is off the market. Receiver Anthony Gonzalez has signed with the Patriots.

AFC West injury report

September, 30, 2011
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San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is not expected to play against Miami, because of a lingering foot injury that kept him out of six games last season and last week’s game. I could see San Diego holding Gates out until after its Oct. 16 bye. Gates will be replaced by veteran Randy McMichael.

Cornerback Quentin Jammer is also doubtful. He suffered a hamstring injury last week. Promising rookie Marcus Gilchrist is expected to play for Jammer against Miami on Sunday.

The battered Chargers listed starting receivers Vincent Jackson (abdomen) and Malcom Floyd (groin) as questionable. But they both practiced fully Friday, so that is a good sign they will play Sunday. Running back Ryan Mathews (foot) and rookie defensive end Corey Liuget (ankle) are both probable after they both practiced fully Friday.

The Denver Broncos do not know if they will have the services of two key defensive players Sunday at Green Bay.

Both cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring) and defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder) have been listed as questionable on the injury report. Neither has been on the field since Week 1, and both were limited all week in practice.

Denver’s defense -- which was ranked No. 32 last season -- is ranked No. 16 this season. Getting Bailey and Dumervil back should only improve the Broncos.

Running back Knowshon Moreno is listed as probable. He has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. He’ll likely back up Willis McGahee on Sunday while he shakes off the rust.

In Oakland, safety Michael Huff (concussion), defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder) and fullback Marcel Reece (ankle) are all questionable to play against New England on Sunday. All three are key cogs for the Raiders. Cornerback Chris Johnson (hamstring) and receiver Louis Murphy (sports hernia) are out, as expected. Receiver Jacoby Ford (hamstring) is listed as questionable, but he is expected to play for the first time since Week 1.

There are several Oakland players listed as probable, but they are all expected to play.

In Kansas City, cornerback Brandon Flowers (ankle) and safety Jon McGraw (shin) are questionable to play against visiting Minnesota on Sunday. They were both limited all week in practice. Rookie first-round pick Jon Baldwin is out. He has been limited in practice the past two weeks. He suffered a thumb injury in a reported fight with teammate Thomas Jones six weeks ago. It seems like Baldwin will play at some point, but you have to wonder how long it will take him to catch up when he does hit the field.
Random thoughts from the Chargers’ 20-7 win at Dallas on Sunday night:
  • I like the way Ryan Mathews ran the ball. Give him credit He ran hard and he is making strides after starting training camp slow because of poor conditioning. He was terrific on a 15-yard touchdown run. He had 35 yards rushing on seven carries.
  • Sixth-round pick Jordan Todman continues to look good. He had 27 yards on five carries, and he had a big play nullified by a penalty. He could be in the mix on third downs.
  • Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson are ready to play Minnesota. The game is in three weeks. But this pass-catch combination is set. Rivers completed 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards. Jackson had three catches for 49 yards.
  • With starter Antonio Gates out as a precaution, veteran backup Randy McMichael showed he his value. He had three catches for 24 yards, including a nifty 7-yard touchdown catch.
  • San Diego head coach Norv Turner has said the key to not starting slow again is to avoid committing turnovers early in the season. Turner has to be pleased San Diego did not commit a turnover in this game.
  • Corey Liuget is going to make lot of plays. The No. 18 overall draft pick has been explosive and he has been beating his opponent routinely. Expect him to make his presence known as a starter at defensive end as a rookie. He had a sack
  • Backup defensive lineman Vaughn Martin is making strides. He had two sacks Sunday, He has been a long-term project and the former Canadian college player is starting to live up to his potential. Perhaps we’ll see him as a rotational player this season.
  • Overall, San Diego’s defense played strong for the second straight game. Dallas’ first-team offense did have one dominant drive. But this was a solid outing for Greg Manusky’s unit.
  • Starting receiver Malcom Floyd left the game with a concussion. He will be monitored. The NFL takes concussion treatment extremely serious. So, I wouldn’t be shocked if Floyd doesn’t play next week.
  • After an eight-tackle performance last week, rookie free-agent linebacker Darryl Gamble had two tackles Sunday.

Observation deck: Cowboys-Chargers

August, 21, 2011
8/21/11
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Thoughts from the Cowboys' 20-7 preseason loss to the visiting Chargers.

Defense is what matters for the Dallas Cowboys. Defense is what killed them in 2010, and defense will determine whether or not they can rebound and return to playoff contention in 2011. And so, when you tune in to watch a Cowboys preseason game, you're going to watch the defense. And it is, as we mentioned in Camp Confidential, a work in progress.

New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's defense is based on multiple and varied looks. It's intended to confuse the opposing offense, but before it can do that, the players playing the defense must learn the scheme and develop trust and confidence in it. Since the lockout eliminated OTAs and minicamps, the Cowboys couldn't start practicing their roles in Ryan's new scheme until a couple of weeks ago, and the lack of experience in the new system has shown in both of their preseason games so far.

The best example was Randy McMichael's touchdown catch from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. The Cowboys' pass rush had Rivers cold and he looked as though he was about to throw the ball away. But because cornerback Alan Ball and safety Gerald Sensabaugh had both gone after the same receiver, McMichael was wide open. Rivers saw him and found him for the touchdown, and Ryan had something to say to Sensabaugh when he came off the field.

There were good things that happened, too. Barry Church had an excellent game, knocking down a touchdown pass in the first half and making a great open-field tackle in the third quarter. And Ryan lined top linebacker DeMarcus Ware in several different spots -- left side, right side, dropped him into pass coverage. As a coordinator, Ryan's never had a player as good as Ware, and he's going to have more and more fun with him as everybody gets comfortable in the new system and he can keep moving Ware (and others) all over the field into unexpected spots.

But the question is how soon that will be. Can this Cowboys team learn and become comfortable in this new system in just two more preseason games and three more weeks of practice? There are still communication issues in the secondary, and injured starting cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman haven't even played yet, so there's no way to even know if they'll be good enough to allow Ryan to do what he wants to do up front. Long way to go before the Cowboys' defense looks like a cohesive unit, and they don't have a lot of time.

Here are some other things I saw in the loss to San Diego:

1. The first-team offensive line looked good. Especially rookie right tackle Tyron Smith, who is big and strong and athletic and just looks like a nightmare to try and get past. They've been working with Smith on his footwork, specifically the alignment of his left foot, and it's a matter of him getting comfortable with the new foot position and trusting it. He looked better and protecting the outside Sunday night than he had in the first game. Fellow rookie Bill Nagy got the start at left guard and handled himself well, but he gets overpowered by stronger defensive linemen, as rookie David Arkin did a bit last week. If everyone's healthy (including starting center Andre Gurode), I still think either Montrae Holland or Phil Costa starts at left guard three weeks from now in New York. But Nagy and Arkin will still get opportunities in the meantime to show what they can do, and there are plenty of reasons to like both -- for the near future, if not immediately. You can always build strength.

2. I don't have anything, really, to say on Tony Romo. Yes, his interception was terrible -- terrible decision, terrible throw, terrible all the way around. But from the Twitter reaction you'd have thought it was his 700th consecutive pass attempt that resulted in an interception. His touchdown pass was a very good throw, and while it seems clear that those who don't like Romo will always be looking for reasons to point and shout, "See? Told ya!", he has offered no reason to worry and remains very low on the Cowboys' list of concerns.

3. Lonyae Miller and Phillip Tanner. With Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray injured, the younger running backs on the Cowboys roster have had a chance to show their stuff. Miller looked good early, and the block he threw against the blitz early in the third quarter will show up on his personal highlight film. But his fumble will not, and fumbles can kill a fringe guy's chances of making the team. Tanner struggled in pass protection last week, but he looks like a better runner than Miller does. I don't think any defenders let up on the play after he lost his helmet on the touchdown that got called back, so on tape that's going to show up as a tough touchdown run. Difficult call, if it comes down to two of these guys for one spot, or if they're looking to see whether or not one can unseat Choice.

4. Oh, and the starting running back. Felix Jones, for the second week in a row... wow. Fast, tough and resilient. Guy is moving up those fantasy draft boards, I guarantee. He's running like he means it. His teammates like the spark he brings. He's seeing the field and his lanes from the backfield, and he's working for extra yards against a very good defense in a game that doesn't count. Everything you'd want to see out of Jones when presented with a chance to be the every-down guy, he's showing. My only concern? He's taking a lot of hits, and hasn't exactly shown himself to be Mr. Durable in the past. If he can hold up, he's got a chance to bring something special.

5. The No. 3 receiver issue. If it's Kevin Ogletree's job to lose, he didn't do anything to lose it Sunday. He looked very speedy and very determined, and we didn't see any of the Dwayne Harris magic we saw last year. Manuel Johnson was the down-the-roster receiver who made the strongest second-half impression with Stephen McGee under center. Which is probably another reason for Ogletree to feel good about things.

6. No blood in the kicking battle. Neither Dan Bailey nor David Buehler got a field goal attempt, and I'm not sure I get why neither got one in the final minute. Is it more important right now for the Cowboys to see these guys kick or see if their third-team offense can get in on fourth-and-goal? I guess you could say a 20-yard field goal would be a poor indicator anyway, but still. Why not put one of the kickers in a real game situation if you can?

7. Finally, I'm a little bit surprised by the choice of James Spader for "The Office." My hope is that it allows the very funny people that populate the rest of the cast to shine now that they don't all have to orbit Steve Carell.

Philip Rivers unplugged

August, 9, 2011
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SAN DIEGO -- I had a chance to catch up with San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers on Tuesday and we discussed several topics.

Rivers
Rivers
Here is a sampling:

Rivers is excited about the prospect of playing with starting receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates. Last year, the three played to together for a total of one quarter of a game. Jackson held out much of the season and Gates and Floyd were hurt late in the season. In 2009, those three players combined for 192 catches for 3,100 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns catches.

That is a lot of missed opportunities for Rivers. However, he still passed for a career-high 4,710 passing yards in 2010.

Rivers said he is thrilled to have his top receivers back, but the good part about last season was that several other players showed they can contribute to the offense, including receiver Patrick Crayton and tight end Randy McMichael.

Add veteran free-agent pickup Laurent Robinson and rookie receiver Vincent Brown, and Rivers likes what he sees.

“We have a lot of weapons,” Rivers said. “I have so many different guys who I can I can count on. It’s really going to be exciting.”

Meanwhile, Rivers complimented second-year running back Ryan Mathews for his development in camp. Mathews has been maligned for not showing up to camp in prime shape and he has continued to deal with nagging injuries. He will likely not play Thursday against Seattle as a precaution because of a minor leg injury.

However, Rivers said Mathews is making strides in all aspects of the game, including pass protection. Rivers said he believes Mathews will only improve as he takes more repetitions.

Rivers admits it didn’t break his heart to see star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha leave Oakland and the AFC West to sign with Philadelphia. However, Rivers said he is impressed by Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, who will likely replace Asomugha.

“Nnamdi is great, but Routt and Johnson can cover,” Rivers said. “Oakland had us covered as well as anyone in (Oakland’s 28-13 win at San Diego in December) … Those guys can play.”

Rivers has been impressed by rookie free-agent quarterback Scott Tolzien. Rivers said he knew the first day he saw Tolzien that Tolzien is more than camp fodder.

“He’s a pro,” Rivers said. “You can tell the kid can handle himself.”

If the Wisconsin product has a good preseason perhaps San Diego will add him on the active roster behind Rivers and Billy Volek.
The San Diego Chargers have been one of the most effective teams in the NFL the past two days. They continued their strong work by securing safety Eric Weddle for a record contract. Weddle was the Chargers’ top free-agency priority.

His agreement comes a day after the Chargers kept right tackle Jeromey Clary and tight end Randy McMichael and struck a deal with veteran inside linebacker Takeo Spikes. The team agreed to terms with veteran safety Bob Sanders prior to the lockout.

Weddle
The agreement with Weddle means San Diego’s defense has a chance to be very strong once again. It was ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year and Weddle was a big part of it. He is playmaker who is very smart and who offers strong leadership. The Football Outsiders think it is a smart move for the Chargers to keep Weddle.

He fits in well with Spikes and Sanders because of the way he plays the game. Some people around the league may be startled to see that he is now the highest-paid safety in NFL history after agreeing to a five-year, $40 million deal that includes $19 million in guaranteed money, but Weddle means a lot to San Diego.

He is a pillar in the community and he has never been in any trouble. He is a leader in the locker room as well. The Chargers have been reluctant to give star receiver Vincent Jackson an extension partly because of off-field concerns. Weddle never gave the Chargers any headaches and he was rewarded for it.

“The Chargers stepped up,” Weddle’s agent, David Canter, just told me. “I can’t say enough about that organization.”

Weddle had significant interest from seven teams, Canter said. Among the teams believed to be interested were the Jaguars, Browns, Vikings, Cowboys and Texans. Canter said he focused on getting a deal done with the Chargers Wednesday morning. Weddle, a Southern California native, didn’t want to play anywhere else.

Expect the Chargers to try to re-sign linebacker Kevin Burnett. However, players like receiver Malcom Floyd and running back/returner Darren Sproles may be on the way out. The Chargers didn’t make those players priorities.
Credit the San Diego Chargers for striking first in the AFC West when it comes to adding a big name from outside their organization.

They also get a very big neck.

[+] EnlargeSpikes
Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesTakeo Spikes is heading to the San Diego Chargers.
San Diego agreed to terms with former San Francisco inside linebacker Takeo Spikes on Tuesday. He reunites with former San Francisco defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who is now San Diego’s defensive coordinator.

Spikes highlights a busy first day for the Chargers, who clearly are bent on returning to the playoffs after they saw their four-year AFC West championship run end in 2010. In addition to agreeing to terms with Spikes, San Diego agreed to bring back right tackle Jeromey Clary and tight end Randy McMichael. They agreed to terms with free-agent safety Bob Sanders prior to the lookout.

Spikes and Sanders bring terrific leadership to a defense that was No. 1 in the NFL last season. San Diego usually stays away from big-name free agents but they jumped at the chance to add Spikes on Tuesday.

“I think defensively you want to be as strong as you can be down the middle and with Spikes and then Sanders, you’ve got two strong personalities that bring a real aggressive presence to the defense,” San Diego coach Norv Turner said in a statement released by the team.

The Chargers said the team called Spikes at 7 a.m. PT Tuesday. It was the first minute teams could reach out to players.

“He is an outstanding player. Takeo will bring his physical, aggressive style to our defense,” general manager A.J. Smith said. “I love his competitiveness and instincts. I believe he will be an immediate contributor. To me, this is another Randall Godfrey type move for the Chargers.”

Spikes, 34, gives San Diego some clarity at inside linebacker. Stephen Cooper, Brandon Siler and Kevin Burnett are free agents. The team wants Burnett back. There was talk the Chargers would be interested in Green Bay’s Nick Barnett, who is expected to be set free soon. But the Spikes’ signing shows where the team’s priority was.

“It’s going to be great playing for Coach Manusky again,” Spikes said in a statement. “One of the intangibles that I bring is my leadership. Even though everybody is from different places across America, to me I feel like the great ones bring everybody together and believe in the same common goal, and that’s to win a championship. That’s why I’m in San Diego.”

The 14-year veteran had 109 tackles for the 49ers last season. Spikes, known for his strikingly large neck, will give San Diego a needed nasty demeanor. The Chargers were pushed around some on defense the past couple of season. Spikes and healthy Sanders should change that.

I could see the Chargers having some interest in another San Francisco defender, Manny Lawson, if the price is right. He is a solid outside linebacker.

Now, the Chargers need to lock up safety Eric Weddle and the free agency will be a strong one. Weddle will get interest elsewhere, though. Still, the Chargers view him as a priority.

AFC West Week 16 decisive moment

December, 28, 2010
12/28/10
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

When the game is on the line, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers usually is on the right side of the most decisive play of the game.

He wasn’t Sunday.

In the worst possible time to fail, the San Diego Chargers saw their four-season AFC West title reign end. Rivers threw an interception late in the third quarter of an eventual 34-20 loss at Cincinnati. After trailing 13-0, the Chargers clawed back to make it a three-point deficit. They were looking to take the lead and keep their playoff hopes alive. In the final seconds of the third period, San Diego had a first down at its own 47.

A Rivers’ pass intended for tight end Randy McMichael (who was playing for the injured Antonio Gates) went past McMichael and into the hands of Cincinnati linebacker Rey Maualuga at the Bengals’ 32. The linebacker took the ball and rumbled all the way to the Chargers’ 21. It set up a Cincinnati touchdown as the Bengals took a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

The play seemed to take the life out of San Diego. After trying all game to get back into it, San Diego gave all the momentum back to Cincinnati, which went out and dominated the fourth quarter with three touchdowns.

The result was a shocking loss and playoff-contention eviction notice for Rivers and San Diego.

Gates hoping to return for playoffs

December, 17, 2010
12/17/10
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The San Diego Chargers have scored 65 points in the past two games without the services of star tight end Antonio Gates.

According to Gates, the Chargers will likely have to continue their playoff push without him. Gates told the San Diego Union Tribune after the Chargers’ 34-7 win against the 49ers that the goal is for him to return for the playoffs, if the Chargers make it. Gates has missed four of the past six games (including the past two) with a serious foot injury.

Gates is reportedly pessimistic about his chances to return Dec. 26 at Cincinnati. San Diego finishes the season Jan. 2 in Denver. San Diego is 8-6 and trails first-place Kansas City by a half game. If the Chargers win their two final games, Kansas City will have to win its final three games to win the division.

The Chargers have been starting Randy McMichael in Gates’ place. Gates has been the favorite weapon of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers.

Still, the Chargers have been able to deal with the absence of Gates. A big reason why is the arrival of Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson, who had three touchdown catches against San Francisco on Sunday. It appears the Chargers will need more big performances by Jackson as they will likely have to march toward the playoffs without Gates.

San Diego's inactives for 49ers game

December, 16, 2010
12/16/10
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In addition to tight end Antonio Gates and receiver Malcom Floyd, here are San Diego’s other inactive players for Thursday night’s game against San Francisco: Larry English, Patrick Crayton, Darrell Stuckey, Tyrone Carter, Louis Vasquez and Travis Johnson. English has a foot injury.

The biggest hits are the loss of Gates and Floyd, even though both have long been dealing with injuries. This is Gates’ fourth missed game in the past six games with a nagging foot injury. Randy McMichael will start for the Chargers.

The Rivers-Gates combination has resulted in 10 touchdowns and a passer rating of 143.1 this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Rivers has completed 77 percent of his passes to tight ends this season and he is averaging 11.5 yards per attempt.

Meanwhile, San Diego made some roster moves near the bottom of the roster that could affect the special teams unit, which has settled down and has played well in recent weeks.

Antonio Gates is inactive

December, 12, 2010
12/12/10
3:30
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SAN DIEGO -- Antonio Gates will join Matt Cassel as a witness instead of a participant in the biggest AFC West game of the season on a perfect day in Southern California.

San Diego’s superstar tight end will not play Sunday because of a lingering foot injury. He missed two games and then returned for the past two games. Gates didn’t practice all week. Randy McMichael will start for Gates

San Diego (6-6) must win to stay alive in the AFC West race. Kansas City (8-4) could be on the doorstep of the AFC West title with a win. The Chiefs will be playing without Cassel, who had an appendectomy on Wednesday and did not travel with the team. Brodie Croyle will start at quarterback. Croyle is 0-9 as an NFL starter and hasn’t played since Week 13 of last season.

Meanwhile, Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson will start for the Chargers. He missed last week’s game with a calf injury that he suffered on the second play of his season debut Nov. 28 at the Colts following a long holdout.

Antonio Gates is out

November, 22, 2010
11/22/10
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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego superstar tight end Antonio Gates will not play Monday night against Denver. It was determined he was unable to play effectively because of a foot injury.

It is the second straight game Gates will miss after playing in 94 straight games.

Mike Tolbert is expected to start at running back for San Diego. As expected, rookie running back Ryan Mathews is out with an ankle injury. He didn’t practice all week. Both Tolbert and Mathews have 382 rushing yards.

Receiver Legedu Naanee remains out with a hamstring injury. Patrick Crayton takes his place. Current No. 1 receiver Malcom Floyd is returning after missing several games with a hamstring injury.

Because of the injuries at tight end and running back, San Diego has signed Korry Sperry (tight end) and Curtis Brinkley (running back) off the practice squad. Both players are active Monday night. Backup tight end Kris Wilson is also inactive, so expect to see a lot of Randy McMichael in both phases of the offense.

For Denver, cornerback Andre Goodman (hip) is out as is linebacker Robert Ayers (foot). Ayers may be getting close to playing. Denver running back Laurence Maroney is inactive for the second straight game. He was acquired from New England in September for a fourth-round pick.

Because of a recent San Diego State game, there are big patches of rough grass at heading toward the East end zone.
  • Meanwhile, in other AFC West-related news, Oakland coach Tom Cable confirmed that starting defensive end Trevor Scott did tear the ACL in his knee and he is out for the season, as expected. He was hurt on a special teams play Sunday in a 35-3 loss at Pittsburgh.
  • The Buffalo Bills are unsure if linebacker Shawne Merriman will play the rest of the season because of an injury. Sound familiar, Chargers’ fans? Buffalo claimed him off waivers last month. He was cut in San Diego because he couldn’t stay healthy. Merriman is a free agent at the end of the season.
Three of the better players in the AFC West are doubtful to play in Week 9. All of their absences would be felt greatly by their teams.

Oakland is preparing for its biggest game since 2002 with star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and standout tight end Zach Miller being listed as doubtful to play against first-place Kansas City. Also, San Diego star tight end Antonio Gates is doubtful to play at Houston.

Asomugha and Miller would be big losses for Oakland against the Chiefs. Neither player practiced all week. Asomugha has an ankle injury and Miller has a foot problem.

Asomugha is widely considered one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, who is coming off a concussion, will get more playing time if Asomugha doesn’t play.

Kansas City has the No. 1 running attack in the NFL and relies on the run. However, if Asomugha doesn’t play, expect Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel to challenge Oakland’s cornerbacks more than he would if Asomugha were healthy. Miller is a favorite target in Oakland and a top third-down weapon.

San Diego’s passing game will be a mess if Gates can’t play. He has plantar fasciitis on one foot and an injured toe on the other, and didn’t practice all week. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers will be without his top four receivers, and if Gates – Rivers’ favorite target – doesn’t play, Rivers will be in a lurch. Backup tight ends Randy McMichael and Kris Wilson and receiver Patrick Crayton will the have to carry the receiving load along with running back Darren Sproles.

Rivers has thrown for 2,649 yards this season, which is more than any quarterback in NFL history after eight games. He might be challenged like he has never been before this week. Oakland and San Diego have a bye in Week 10, so these three players will get a chance to heal next week.

Meanwhile, Kansas City guard Ryan Lilja (hand) and receiver/returner/rusher Dexter McCluster (ankle) are both questionable to face Oakland.

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