The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

NFL matchup of the week: Chargers’ Antonio Gates vs. Bills’ Preston Brown

(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Antonio Gates has found the Fountain of Youth.

In two games this season, the San Diego Chargers’ 34-year-old tight end has 13 catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns, including a marvelous one-handed grab for one of his three scores against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2.

This is reminiscent of the beginning of Gates’s career, when he made the Pro Bowl each year from 2004 to 2011 and was a first-team All Pro in three of his first four seasons.

That could be bad news on Sunday for the Buffalo Bills, who have had a tough time neutralizing the opposition’s tight end so far this season.

In Week 1, the Bears’ Martellus Bennett was targeted 10 times, making eight catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. A week later, Dolphins tight end Charles Clay caught 7 of 8 targets for 31 yards.

On Sunday, you can expect the Bills’ cornerbacks to have their hands full trying to contain Chargers wideouts Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd, leaving a linebacker with the responsibility of shutting down Gates. Look for rookie Preston Brown to get the call.

Brown is the only defensive player who has played every snap for Buffalo this season, and he improved greatly from Week 1, where he earned a minus-4.5 grade from Pro Football Focus, to Week 2, a plus-1.5 grade.

“I thought I’d just be on special teams. Maybe I’d work my way in on situational defenses, goal line, something like that. I never knew I’d be playing so much,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to take it in stride and learn as much as possible.”

He better learn quick. In coverage, Brown has allowed opposing receivers to go 10 for 10 for 64 yards and a score when opposing quarterbacks target him, and that includes 45 yards after the catch. Gates is averaging 13.6 yards per reception, so if Brown doesn’t find a way to break up some passes, it could be another big day for the Chargers and their tight end.