Although it rarely works out this way, fans and media alike are always looking to project the league’s postseason awards at the year’s midway point. San Diego just so happens to feature two very viable candidates for the midseason most valuable player (MVP) in Philip Rivers under center and tight end Antonio Gates on the receiving end of several Rivers’ deliveries.
This age old argument of who makes who (the receiver or the quarterback) has been debated forever it seems and MVP voters will be forced to make this distinction when it comes to Rivers and Gates this season.
For Rivers, his ability to distribute the ball to a wide variety of targets and scan the field through his progressions is second to none. He doesn’t play favorites as far as receivers go and just finds the open target to move the chains and continue down the field. He is fortunate to have a solid supporting cast around him as far as aerial weapons are concerned, but many of the Bolts targets on the outside have been nicked up recently forcing Rivers to hit different pairs of hands in stride. This hasn’t slowed him down one bit as he is currently on pace to take down a quarter century old record in Dan Marino’s 5,084 passing yards from 1984.
A substantial portion of this yardage has come via his tight end in Gates who just has a knack for finding soft spots in opposing defenses. With the speed and athleticism of a wide receiver in a much larger package, Gates creates mismatches all over the field for different defenders. Linebackers are too slow to stick with him while defensive backs just don’t have the strength to fend him off on jump balls. His basketball background certainly aids him in high pointing the football and attacking it to make the catch, but much of his success is derived from the pinpoint accuracy of Rivers.
One potential fly in the ointment for Gates’ campaign is the foot issues that he has been dealing with of late. This latest plantar faschia problem kept the Bolts tight end out of their most recent game with the Houston Texans which marked the first time Gates has missed a game due to injury in his entire career. He missed practice early in the week and is not expected to make an appearance on the field until Friday. Along with the plantar faschia tear, Gates is also nursing a sprained ankle and turf toe on his other leg.
This latest issue is just another case of next man up for Rivers as he navigates the Bolts offense down the field. Losing Gates could be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back however as Rivers focuses on his go-to tight end in the red zone and on third downs in particular. Plenty of players have been stepping up for San Diego as the injuries mount and they have been no strangers to adversity thus far in 2010.
The MVP award might not be acknowledged in tandem, but in the case of Rivers and Gates they should make an exception. These two are the peanut butter and jelly of the NFL. Having an all-world tight end on the field opens up other options for Rivers to throw to as Gates is often double-covered. By the same token, Rivers’ accurate deliveries allow Gates to pick up valuable yards after the catch and greatly increase his value.
What generally decides MVP races is the cliché ‘how would the team fair without this particular player?’ For the Chargers, it seems clear that this club can still function without Gates on the field, but they are definitely limited offensively in terms of weaponry. As for operating without Rivers, thankfully that has not needed to be tested and it seems apparent that the team would struggle mightily without him at the helm.
Although it is a close call at this point, Rivers has to hold a narrow lead over Gates for the MVB (most valuable Bolt) even though the year is only at its halfway mark. Getting Gates back onto the field will only help Rivers and the Chargers in their march to the playoffs as well as both players in their pursuit of season-long awards. Let’s hope this incredible production can continue for each of these Bolts players as they further their assaults on the NFL record books.
Now it’s your turn, fans. Which Charger is the most valuable to the team, Rivers or Gates? Does either player have a real shot at winning the MVP for the entire NFL or will one of the usual suspects again claim the hardware? On a scale of 1 to 10, just how concerning are the laundry list of injuries that Gates has accumulated already this year? Will Rivers be able to maintain his torrid pace without having his go-to red zone target in Gates on the field should these ailments force him to miss any more time? Please leave your opinion in the comments section below!
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