Half a day before I fly down to Atlanta to cover Sunday’s Seahawks-Falcons divisional playoff game, here’s the feature on Tony Gonzalez I just filed, plus a few shorties on the Seattle Seahawks — including why Pete Carroll’s choice of playing James Brown songs in practice this week might have been a bad choice …..
END IS NEAR FOR NFL’S MOST PROLIFIC TIGHT END … BUT
IT’S NOT A SLAM DUNK!
The NFL’s best slam-dunking tight end realizes his next game could be his last.
But it’s not quite a slam dunk.
Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons, the most prolific tight end in NFL history, has vowed all season long he’s “95% sure” he’s on his last lap as a pro football player.
To which everyone else in the league – well, except defensive coordinators and defenders that have to cover him – are saying, “What??! Are you crazy? Come back!”
Gonzalez just had one of the best seasons of his illustrious 16-year career – the fifth most TD catches (8), fifth most receiving yards (930) and fourth most catches (93).
The latter placed Gonzalez ninth among all NFL receivers in 2012.
But he hasn’t wavered from his intention to spend more time with his wife and three children.
Well rested after a bye, the top-seeded Falcons play their first playoff game on Sunday in the divisional round, in the Georgia Dome against the Seattle Seahawks (1 p.m. EST, CTV/FOX).
“Obviously, this could be it for me,” Gonzalez said on Thursday. “There is no tomorrow for me, and there is no saying, ‘We’ll get them next year.’ It’s about going out there and finishing on the right note. For me, that means I don’t care what happens in that game (individually). I just want to be up by one point at the end.”
Gonzalez has been an NFLer for so long, the team the drafted him – the Kansas City Chiefs – moved up to 13th overall to select him, in a trade with Houston.
The Houston Oilers.
That was in 1997. When Robert Griffin III was seven years old, and Peyton Manning was still playing his football at the University of Tennessee.
In 12 seasons in Kansas City, Gonzalez became one of the league’s top pass-catching tight ends practically from the get-go. Three times he had 1,000+ yards receiving. Once he even had 100+ receptions (102 in 2004).
He was traded to the Falcons before the 2009 season. Some thought he might be done. No chance.
In four seasons in Atlanta, the native of Torrance, Calif., has continued producing at an all-pro rate.
In fact, Gonzalez has been named to the Pro Bowl in 13 of the past 14 seasons – the only miss being his first year in Atlanta, when the Falcons were primarily a running team and people kind of forgot he was there.
Gonzalez’s career numbers are certain to punch his ticket to Canton the first year he’s eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To wit:
He has more receptions (1,242), yards (14,268), touchdown catches (103), Pro Bowl appearances (13), 100-yard receiving games (30) and 1,000-yard receiving seasons (3) than any tight end in NFL history.
Individually, there’s nothing else left for him accomplish. He has publicly stated on many occasions his desire to spend more time with wife, October, and their two children – a son, 11, and a daughter, 4. (He has an older son from a previous relationship.)
But to see him play, or be interviewed, you’d never know he’s age 36. Gonzalez seems as fit, as fleet and as athletic now at 6-foot-5, 247 pounds as he was in the ’90s with the Chiefs.
That’s where the 5% must come in.
He surely realizes he’s not washed up. It’s not like he’s had an injury-riddled career, either. Incredibly, he has missed two starts in 16 years – one in 1999, the other in 2006.
All of which is why Gonzalez wants to win Sunday’s game. He’s never won a playoff game.
“It’s huge, I’m not going to lie to you,” Gonzalez said. “I really want to win this game. Not just for me, honestly, it’s for the guys on this team (for) how hard we’ve worked. Like I’ve said, this is the best team I’ve ever been a part of.”
Will Gonzalez be more nervous than usual, since it could be his last game?
“Maybe a little bit … Maybe on that first play, it might be a little bit more. Once we get going, I’ll get into the swing of things.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. About 25 years now, so I’ll make sure I’ll go out there and just play ball.”
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GONZALEZ DOESN’T WANT TO PULL EVEN ONE FAVRE:
How will Tony Gonzalez decide, for sure, that he’s done as an NFLer?
The Atlanta Falcons tight end has said he’s 95% sure he’ll hang ’em up, after either a playoff loss or the Super Bowl.
“I’m going to go back and talk to my family, and my inner circle, my son,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not going to change it.”
And the family?
“They’re 95%, too.”
When will he decide?
“It’ll be well into the off-season. I want to make sure that I make the right decision … We’ll see. Like I said, I’m not going to play that game with the media or, really, I’m not going to play that game with my team. We’ll see.”
In other words, he doesn’t want to pull a Brett Favre. And good on him for that.
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IT’S A CRAZY (AND SMALL) WORLD AFTER ALL FOR LONGWELL:
Ryan Longwell hadn’t kicked a football since the Minnesota Vikings cut him in training camp.
At age 38 he must have figured his long NFL career was over.
Indeed, until this week he’d been training to run a marathon this coming Sunday, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King – a marathon that winds through the four Disney theme parks near Longwell’s Orlando, Fla., home.
But Longwell won’t be running in that marathon. Instead, he’ll be the starting placekicker for the Seattle Seahawks in their NFL divisional playoff game in Atlanta, against the top-seeded Falcons.
Crazy how one phone call can change your life, huh?
And one injury.
The Seahawks’ regular placekicker, Steven Hauschka, suffered a calf injury last Sunday on the Washington Redskins’ awful playing surface, loosely termed grass, at FedEx Field. Hauschka booted three field goals in Seattle’s 24-14 victory, but could not go this week.
He has been placed on injured reserve.
“We brought four guys in to kick,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said the other day. “We knew we had to do something, and when you look at Ryan’s background – the great experience he’s had, the time he’s had in playoff situations and all of that … I think he can handle it.”
Longwell won the job.
It’s not like he’d been out of the game long. He successfully booted 361 field goals in a stellar NFL career over the previous 15 seasons, with the Green Bay Packers and Vikings (above, Reuters photo).
Longwell lost his job in Minnesota to rookie Blair Walsh, who wound up making 92% of his field goals (35-of-38).
Longwell impressed Carroll and his coaches at the tryout.
“He banged a nice 50-yarder and did fine,” Carroll said. “He hit everything, and kicked the ball well on kickoff.
“A few of our coaches have been with him before and knew him really well. Very even-keeled, a true professional and all of that.”
Because he’d been training for a marathon, Longwell of course is in outstanding shape, too.
“I think it’s a cool story,” Carroll said. “Imagine sitting home, working out, and the phone rings, and you’re going to the playoffs.”
The topper? Longwell was born in Seattle.
It’s a small world, after all.
Speaking of which, Longwell can run around Disney World all he wants in a few weeks, if he still wants to.
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RUSSELL WILSON CAN BLOCK, TOO:
Russell Wilson, the last rookie quarterback still playing this season, can throw. And run.
One was effective enough to add a few more yards to Lynch’s gain. Another helped Lynch to score the go-ahead touchdown.
“It’s not like it’s any bone-crushing ones, although he did knock someone down on one,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.
“Every play for him, he plays it to the end. He’s a competitor and you’ve seen it. He’ll throw his body around.”
For his part, Wilson knows his limitations.
“I don’t try to take on linebackers or defensive linemen or anything crazy like that,” Wilson said. “Hopefully it’s somebody my size, otherwise I’ll be pretty smart about it.”
A defender his size? Good luck there. With ruffled hair, Wilson stands 5-foot-11, tops. And he’s a shade over 200 pounds.
Only cornerbacks are that size or smaller.
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SEAHAWKS FEEEEEL GOOD:
Pete Carroll usually feels good. You knew that he would.
Yes, that’s a groaner James Brown reference. But there’s a point.
It’s apropos because songs from the Godfather of Soul comprised the “Song of the Day” playlist at Seattle Seahawks practices this week. Carroll’s practices are anything but serious affairs.
According to Carroll’s own tweets, these are the “SOTD” James Brown songs:
Monday, Make It Funky.
Tuesday, Lickin Stick.
Wednesday, I Feel Alright from Live at the Apollo Vol. 2.
Thursday, Living in America.
Friday, There Was a Time.
Perhaps Carroll is unaware that Brown died in Atlanta – in 2006.
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LYNCH RETURNS TO PRACTICE, IS ‘FINE’:
The Seattle Seahawks’ Beast-Mode running back returned to practice on Friday, before the team boarded a jet to fly 3,500 km to Atlanta.
But Lynch, who rushed for 132 yards in Sunday’s 24-14 defeat of the Redskins in Washington, returned to practice on Friday on a limited basis.
He is officially listed as probable for Sunday’s divisional-round game against the Falcons at the Georgia Dome, but head coach Pete Carroll said Lynch is “fine. He’ll be all right.”
Rookie Robert Turbin might get more carries against the Falcons, but he has looked good if in limited opportunities this season. Atlanta head coach Mike Smith said he has been “impressed” with Turbin, too.
Sidney Rice, Seattle’s top wide receiver, sat out practice again with a knee injury. He, like Lynch, is listed as probable. Backup cornerback Byron Maxwell is doubtful and safety Jeron Johnson questionable, both with hamstring injuries.