Patriots make Gates a complete non-factor

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Patriots make Gates a complete non-factor

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn FOXBORO When you're as big as Antonio Gates, every week you expect to get your share of attention.

But this?

If you didn't know better, you would have thought the San Diego Chargers tight end was traded to the New England Patriots the way he was draped all game by Patriots jerseys.

While San Diego racked up 470 yards of total offense against New England, not a single yard was gained by Gates as the Patriots pulled away for a 35-21 win.

"They made it difficult for me to get off the ball," said Gates, who had zero catches and just one ball thrown his way all game. "They made it difficult for me to make a play on a ball. Every time I looked around, there were two guys around me. They had a game plan. They wanted to take me out of the game, and that's exactly what they did."

The Patriots used a number of players to defend Gates, including defensive back Sergio Brown, whose interception came in the third quarter while he was defending Gates.

"We hit him as much as we could because we knew we couldn't let him get started on his routes," Brown said. "Because as he builds up speed, he runs better routes as he gets up the field. So we try to get him as close to the line of scrimmage as possible."

Gates added, "They did a wonderful job re-routing me. You can't say enough about their game plan."

San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers is known for spreading the ball around, particularly to his tight end and his running backs.

In San Diego's 24-17 Week 1 win over Minnesota, Rivers connected with eight different receivers. His top three targets? Running back Mike Tolbert (9 catches, 58 yards), Gates (8 catches, 74 yards) and running back Ryan Mathews (3 catches, 73 yards).

Despite shutting Gates out completely, Pats coach Bill Belichick said the game plan was to simply "compete against him."

Belichick added, "The guys that covered Gates, Patrick Chung, Sergio -- the linebackers tried to jam them. We tried to make it hard for them, but you just try to compete against him. You can't really stop him."

The attention given to Gates opened things up for Vincent Jackson, who had 10 catches for 172 yards -- both career highs.

Gates said there wasn't really anything the Patriots did that totally caught him off-guard other than the steady dose of attention they paid to him from the opening kick-off until the game ended.

"I felt they were going to make it hard for me to release," Gates said. "But they did that, and more. They made it difficult for me to get off the ball. They made it difficult for me to make a play on a ball. Every time I looked around, there were two guys around me. They had a game plan."

Gates added, "I thought I would still have opportunities to make a play. I tried to stay patient, but they had a terrific game plan."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)