Chargers TE Gates, 38, says he can still play

Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) had four catches for 54 yards in the playoff-clinching win.Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Gates: "I feel like I can still play."

The Los Angeles Chargers brought tight end Antonio Gates back for his 16th pro season only because of an injury to Hunter Henry in May, but Gates sounds like he isn’t ready to retire yet.

Even though he played a secondary role this season with the Chargers (11-4), who are headed to the playoffs after Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Denver Broncos, he knows the end is near, Gates claims he’s not washed up.

“I try to evaluate myself,” the 38-year-old Gates said Friday. “I can still beat a linebacker, I feel like I can still play. The hard part is I set the bar at a certain level, but I’ve adjusted to my role and I just love my teammates, I love this staff. I’ve learned some new dances. I’m just having so much fun.

“It’s just beautiful to know that we’re also going to the playoffs already. It’s not like we have to win our last game to get in. We know we are going and this is a special team. At times in my career I took all this for granted. When I came in, we were winning. I know now this takes work. I’m on third base and I’m heading home, but I’m feeling so good about all this.”

The Chargers are second in the AFC West behind the Kansas City Chiefs and currently the fifth seed for the playoffs, but rhey could end up winning the division depending on the outcome of this weekend’s games.

Gates, whose 116 career touchdown catches are the most for a tight end in NFL history, said he is healthy despite his mileage.

“People also forget that I didn’t play college football so I haven’t taken that wear and tear,” said Gates, who signed a one-year contract when he came back in May.

“I’ve had to adjust to a role in which I’m not getting 12 or 13 targets a game, play a supporting role, but that’s fine. It’s just beautiful to be in this position. All this hard work. Not just this season but over my career. I just embrace it.”

Gates has 28 receptions for 338 yards and two touchdowns this season.