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SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 31: Tight end Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the game at Qualcomm Stadium on October 31, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Titans 33-25. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Antonio Gates hasn't even thought about simply sitting out a game or two to let the torn plantar fascia in his right foot heal.
Bothered by the painful injury since late October, the San Diego Chargers' star tight end has settled into a routine. He sees how his foot feels on Saturday nights, then tests it in the hours leading up to kickoff on Sundays. He was unable to play in consecutive games sandwiched around the Chargers' bye, the first time in his stellar career that he'd been sidelined by injury.
Gates was able to hobble through Sunday night's 36-14 victory at Indianapolis, when the Chargers' defense led the way by intercepting Peyton Manning four times, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Gates will go through the same drill leading up to Sunday's home game, when the recharged Chargers (6-5) seek a measure of revenge against their stumbling archrivals, the Oakland Raiders (5-6).
The Raiders stunned the Chargers 35-27 on Oct. 10, blocking consecutive punts early in the game and ending a 13-game losing streak to the Chargers.
That loss helped send the Chargers tumbling to 2-5. It was that slow start that has motivated Gates, because he vowed to be there when the Chargers turned it around. Now they've won four in row in yet another late-season turnaround under Norv Turner.
"I never really thought about shutting it down because of the situation," said Gates, a three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler. "The fact that we did start off 2-5 has a lot to do with it. If we were sitting here at 11-0, I mean, it's a no-brainer, just go and get healthy. We'd probably have clinched the situation with a playoff berth. But we're not. We're in a situation where really, it's a possibility where there won't be a tomorrow for me. It defeats the purpose of why we play the game, because we want to go to the playoffs, we want to win the championship."
Gates said part of the decision whether he plays or sits has to do with how much he can contribute at approximately 60 percent compared to what backup tight ends Randy McMichael and Kris Wilson can do at 100 percent.
Gates knew that the Colts game was a big one, especially since the four-time defending AFC West-champion Chargers are still chasing the Kansas City Chiefs in the division.
"Me being out there, maybe they somehow draw their attention to me and allowed other guys to get singled up," said Gates, who caught four passes from Philip Rivers for 46 yards. "Whether that worked or not, I'm still not sure that that was the case, but that was just how I felt when I made the decision."
Gates said he was skeptical about being able to play, but the Sunday night kickoff allowed him a few extra hours of rest.
"I wasn't flying around, but I felt like I can give it a chance," he said. "I did all I can. I was proud of myself getting through the game, actually, because it was painful."
Now he'll go through the same process before the Chargers face a Raiders team that's lost two straight and has problems all over the place.
"I want to get to the point where I can be and do the things that I know that I can do," Gates said. "It's like, instead of being 60-60-60 all the way through the whole season, I want to eventually get to the point where I'm 100 percent, where I can get back to playing at a level that know I can play at."
Despite missing two games, Gates still leads the Chargers with 44 catches for 709 yards and nine touchdowns.
While the Chargers have stopped their skid, the Raiders have started one. They've gone from winning three straight and sharing the AFC West lead with Kansas City to losing two straight in which they were outscored 68-20.
Jason Campbell will be back at quarterback for the Raiders after Bruce Gradkowski was hurt late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 33-17 loss to Miami, aggravating a shoulder injury he initially suffered against Arizona on Sept. 26.
"This is a big week for us, a division game, San Diego," Campbell said. "They're a team that's hot right now. We're a team that's trying to get our chemistry back and trying to get things going back in the right direction, so it's going to be a great game. It's going to be a hard-fought game. Anytime you're playing in the division this late in the season, they all count. We've got to get ready."
Campbell has started seven games this season but has been pulled from the lineup twice, in a Week 2 win over St. Louis and during a 35-3 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 21.
Campbell said he can't look over his shoulder, worrying that a mistake will get him benched.
"It's just a situation you have to deal with," he said. "Any quarterback doesn't want to be in a situation like that, but at the same time you can't mope or complain about anything like that. You just have to go out there and execute the offense and do it to the best of your ability. We have for a certain part of the season, and we have to get back to that."
Trying to fix their offensive woes, including a running game that's stalled, won't be easy against San Diego's aggressive defense.
"They've been playing great," Campbell said. "They've been a turnover machine, getting turnovers. If you watched their games over the last couple weeks, they're very active on defense. We've got to come off the ball, we've got to protect that ball, and we just have to play hard."