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Falcons TE Gonzalez enjoying home stretch of Hall of Fame career

The SportsXchange

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons are set to play the final regular-season game in legendary Candlestick Park.

For Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, it's a fitting return to his home state, where he starred in Southern California in high school and in Northern California while playing football and basketball for the Cal Bears.

In what he contends will be his final season in the NFL, the 17th-year veteran just wishes this rematch of the NFC Championship Game last season had more at stake. The Falcons are 4-10 and trying to build some momentum going into the offseason, while the 49ers are 10-4 and trying to make another run to the Super Bowl.

Gonzalez joined the 15,000-yard club last week with Jerry Rice (22,895), Terrell Owens (15,934), Randy Moss (15,292) and Isaac Bruce (15,208). Gonzalez now has 15,008 yards receiving after catching six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown against the Washington Redskins.

The catch that put Gonzalez over 15,000 yards was rather ordinary by his standards. But two other plays showed that, even at 37-years old, Gonzalez still is effective.

Gonzalez caught a pass in the left flat from quarterback Matt Ryan and beat two defenders to the edge. He fought his way to the first-down marker and got out of bounds before Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, the former Falcon, hit him late.

The penalty moved the ball to the Washington 13-yard line, and the red zone is where Gonzalez shines most.

On first down, Ryan found Gonzalez in the middle of the field with a pass. Gonzalez caught it and made a sudden move to leave behind linebacker London Fletcher as he sliced his way into the end zone.

It was the kind of move much younger tight ends can't make, but Gonzalez insists he's finished.

"It's exciting, but it does not make me want to come back another year," Gonzalez said. "I tell you what, I'm enjoying this. Two games left now. It's fun. I love competing."

He has been exchanging jerseys with opposing players and keeping his touchdown balls. He shot a finger roll over the goal posts and caught his own rebound. He carried the ball over to the sideline for safe-keeping.

It will on a mantel place soon.

He enjoyed joining the 15,000-yard club. He said those moments have not become mundane.

"That was special," Gonzalez said. "Every time I get a catch now, it seems like they are saying it's another milestone. I guess that's what happens when you get old and play so long, but I will take it. It's been such a great ride for me. I love competing. I loved playing for the Chiefs. I love playing for the Falcons. The fans have been great."

Gonzalez's career totals are 1,313 receptions, 15,008 receiving yards and 110 receiving touchdowns, all records for a tight end.

"His consistency for 17 years in the league is incredibly impressive," Ryan said. "There's no shortcut to it. There's no mystery to it. Tony works as hard as anybody I've ever been around, and he's blessed with a lot of talent as well."

All that is left is one more business trip to California and a home finale against the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome.

--FS Thomas DeCoud, who is in the second stage of the league's concussion protocol, did not play against Washington. He's expected back at practice on Wednesday for the non-contact drills.

--RB Antone Smith (knee) was inactive against Washington.

--LB Sean Weatherspoon left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter. He's expected back at practice "some time" this week, according to Falcons coach Mike Smith.

PASSING OFFENSE: C - Matt Ryan didn't take full advantage of the seven turnovers created. He completed 29 of 38 passes for 210 yards for one touchdown and one interception. His passer rating was 86.5 and he continued his streak of eight straight sub-100 passer rating games. He completed passes to eight different receivers as the Falcons averaged a paltry 7.2 yards per completion. He was sacked three times and hit eight times. Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Harry Douglas were each targeted on seven pass plays. Gonzalez caught six for 62 yards and a touchdown. White caught five for 53 yards and Harry Douglas caught five for 37 yards. Douglas, while not pleased with his late drop at Green Bay, has only three drops on the season, according to the coaches' film review. Darius Johnson picked up a big first down to keep the opening drive moving. Tackles Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder had some good downs, but also had some very bad ones. They let Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan get loose. The unit gave up three sacks and five hits. Because the middle of the pocket was much firmer, Ryan was able to use his preferred escape route - sliding forward - to get away from a couple of other sacks.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D - Steven Jackson had 15 carries for 38 yards and two rushing touchdowns. He had a couple of dropped passes, too. Jacquizz Rodgers had four carries for 17 yards. It was a bad day going against the 18th-ranked rushing defense. The run game was nonexistent and the Falcons got stuffed on the one-inch line.

PASS DEFENSE: F - There were too many blown coverages as Redskins backup quarterback Kirk Cousins cut the Falcons up for 381 yards. "It will be a great learning experience for our young players that were out there playing," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. All of the rookie starters - Desmond Trufant, Zeke Motta and Robert Alford - had some rough patches, but they kept on playing. Trufant won a ball over Pierre Garcon and batted away the potential game-winning two-point conversion pass. The rookies didn't get much help from an anemic pass rush. The Falcons had one sack and three quarterback hits.

RUSH DEFENSE: C - Paul Worrilow tied for the team lead with nine tackles. Joplo Bartu had six tackles and a quarterback hit. Nicholas came off the bench to make five tackles. Weatherspoon had a tackle and a quarterback hit before leaving the game with a knee injury. Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi was coming off what Smith called his best game in his two year with the Falcons, got the start in the run-heavy 4-3 defense over Osi Umenyiora. Massaquoi came up big with five tackles and is making a push to stay in the plans for 2014. Corey Peters was stout with four tackles and blocked pass.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Matt Bryant's 51-yard field goal turned out to provide the winning points. Matt Bosher averaged 46.8 net yards on six punts and placed three down inside the 20. Robert McClain returned three punts for 25 yards. Rodgers had three kickoff returns for 78 yards with a long of 33 yards.

COACHING: D-minus - Someone has to stand up and take the blame for shoddy brand of football. It's too late in the season for the sort of bumbling and stumbling about the Georgia Dome that was on display in this battle of 3-10 squads. The Falcons clearly are a passing team that can't pass block. That's a lethal combination and major factor in their 4-10 record. The run blocking was pretty shabby, too. Washington coach Mike Shanahan did everyone a favor by going for the two-point conversion. The play was so horrid that this showdown needed to be over as quickly as possible.
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