Antonio Gates grimaced with every second step, walking unevenly as if he was wearing only one shoe.
He smiled as he approached his locker and made a playful comment beneath his breath. His words, hardly audible, were in reference to the crowd of media he knew had long been awaiting his arrival.
The hobbled 6-foot-4 tight end was the final player in the Chargers locker room after enduring a toe injury to play in Sunday's 23-20 loss to the Patriots. His final act of the day was to share a two-worded message.
Bandwagoners should be taking notes.
“I believe,” Gates said. “I think that's the biggest key to our success in the future, that (we) continually believe that we're going to get it done, we're going to get it fixed. And I know we will. The mistakes are fixable.”
If the man with the most pain can set aside all anguish to believe the Chargers, who are 2-5 and entangled in a three-game losing streak, can still right their season, why would any fan be reluctant to do the same?
Is it because the Chargers aren't good enough? They have the NFL's No. 1 offense and defense, and despite any gaffes in special teams or ball security, still manage to repeatedly flirt with last-minute comeback wins.
Is it because the Chiefs, who lead San Diego by 2 1/2 games in the AFC West, can't be caught? The Broncos had a three-game lead this same time last season and a three-game lead through Week 14 the year prior. Those holes were worse, and the Chargers still made the playoffs.
It can't possibly be because of coach Norv Turner or G.M. A.J. Smith. They've been through this before and have yet failed to find a way.
Be frustrated. Be vocal. But no back should be turned on the Chargers. For some, not ever. For bandwagoners, definitely not yet.
It's too early for that.
"This is a league of one game at a time," Gates said. "You don't keep dwelling on the past. You move forward."