DENVER - JANUARY 02: Wide receiver Randy McMichael #81 of the San Diego Chargers makes a 17 yard first down reception as linebacker Mario Haggan #57 of the Denver Broncos moves in for the tackle at INVESCO Field at Mile High on January 2, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Chargers went 5-1 without tight end Antonio Gates last year but the man who filled in for the seven-time Pro Bowler didn't see it as reason to celebrate.
"We were 5-1," Randy McMichael said, "but we still were home in February. I think that's the most important part about it."
Being part of the first Chargers team in five years to miss the playoffs wasn't what McMichael expected when he turned down starting jobs elsewhere to sign with San Diego as the No. 2 to Gates.
McMichael hadn't reached a postseason and that was a big part of why chose the Chargers.
"It was very heartbreaking that we didn't get there last year," the 32-year-old said. "I had all the high expectations coming here, and just like a lot of guys, we expected more of ourselves than what we got."
With Gates still a force when he played, McMichael saw fewer passes than in his typical years with the Rams and Dolphins. He ended up with 20 catches, his second-lowest, but matched his career norm of 11 yards per reception.
"He came through big," said coach Norv Turner, who praised McMichael's pass blocking. "We needed a veteran presence and his playmaking ability. He's a lot different from Gates, but he was productive."
McMichael had been a starter for all of his career when Turner recruited him to join the Chargers. Turner was McMichael's offensive coordinator with the Dolphins in his first two seasons, and McMichael trusted that even when Gates played, passes would come his way.
"Antonio was going to be the primary starter," McMichael said, "but I had been in this offense before, and I knew that coach Turner likes to play the majority of the starters. So I really didn't have a problem with stepping back and taking that backup role."
Gates remains concerned about his right foot, the same one that cost him six games last year and pained him in other games. He has made one practice in training camp.
Gates has said he expects to be ready for the season opener Sept. 11. He knows Turner's offense