EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 23: Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers runs for a touchdown that resulted in his breaking the Chargers' all-time receiving record during a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on December 23, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky /Getty Images)
Franchise records for a team that's been playing pro football since 1960 don't exactly happen every Sunday. So for the Chargers to set two franchise records in the same game, one on offense and one on defense, is a fairly big deal. They did just that in a 27-17 win over the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Tight end Antonio Gates caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers for his 82nd career touchdown reception, breaking Lance Alworth's franchise record (Rivers has thrown 56 of those scores, the most prolific QB-TE duo in NFL history). The casual observer can see Gates is a Hall Of Fame-caliber player. But when his team mates mobbed him in the end zone, it showed us just how great he is in the locker room.
"Sometimes you really don't know what you mean to players," said Gates. "You don't know what you mean to your team mates, and to see guys embrace you and celebrate a goal that you set out for yourself, or an individual accomplishment, it makes you feel like a team. I think there's no better feeling than to score and have 10 other guys running to you, congratulating you. To me, that signifies what a team is about."
The defensive record was a bit more of a collective effort. San Diego's defense sacked Jets quarterback Greg McElroy 11 times, tying the franchise record. Seven different players recorded a sack. An accomplishment like that needs some recognition.
"Each of the guys who got a sack," said head coach Norv Turner, "a couple of guys had multiple sacks, I gave the game ball (to them) in the locker room. Obviously, very impressive."
Rookie defensive end Kendall Reyes had 3.5 of those sacks. Playing against a 2nd-year QB making his first NFL start, the Bolts had a very simple game plan.
"The goal was to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback," said Reyes. "You know it's going to be tougher for him because of his lack of experience. You just want to get in his face."
They did that, and then some. Jets head coach Rex Ryan, a defensive-minded coach who knows a thing or two about getting after opposing quarterbacks, summed it up in his unique way:
"That was great on their part and ridiculous on ours."
There's just one game left to play in this disappointing 2012 season. But for one Sunday in Christmas weekend in New York, the Chargers can say they did a whole lot of things right.
"You want to go out the right way and leave on a high note," said Rivers. "This year there haven't been many high notes. Next week we go home to play Oakland. We have 59 wins in six years and we want to finish it off right."