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Falcons TE Gonzalez enjoying victory lap

The SportsXchange

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- This is not what Tony Gonzalez pictured when he envisioned the final games of his NFL career. But this time, he is positive the end is here.

"Just want to say thanks to all the fans out there for supporting me all these years. Two games left to do my thing! Crazy to think about," Gonzalez said via Twitter.

The Atlanta Falcons are set to play the final regular-season game in legendary Candlestick Park, a venue with a special place in Gonzalez's heart.

Gonzalez is returning to his home state. He starred in Southern California in high school and in Northern California while playing football and basketball for the Cal Bears.

"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."

A consequential rematch of the NFC Championship Game last season would be a preferred reason for the visit, with much 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.

One of those new-school tight ends chasing Gonzalez's legay lines up across the field for the 49ers this week. Vernon Davis has 49 receptions and 12 touchdowns, averaging 16.4 yards per reception.

"Vernon, the speed, the ability to track a football, extend for a catch, balance of keeping and getting the feet in bounds. There's many superlatives there." coach Jim Harbaugh said.

Gonzalez 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.
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