FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- This is not what Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez had in mind when he decided back in March to return for a 17th NFL season.
The former basketball and football star at Cal-Berkeley is one of the key tight ends who helped with the evolution of the position in a more pass-friendly era.
He came back in 2013 to make one last run at the Super Bowl after making it to the NFC championship game last season.
But because the Falcons' front office woefully failed to rebuild the offensive line, defensive line and have been beset with massive injuries, they are just trying to finish out of last place in the NFC South.
Gonzalez, who holds most of the receiving records for the position, is set to play the final game of his illustrious 17-year career in the NFL on Sunday.
"I'm trying not to make it nostalgic, but I'm taking those mental snap shots, too," Gonzalez said. "If you ask any player around the league and it's not about what goes on during the week. That's not the part that you're going to miss. I'm forcing myself to try to enjoy it because it's tough. But It's the games (I'll miss). It's what happens on Sunday."
Gonzalez has been trying to keep things festive during his last week.
"Right now, I'm just really just enjoying the guys," Gonzalez said. "It's more about them. I am going about my business because I don't want to lose focus on my job and what I have to do when I go out there and play."
Falcons coach Mike Smith said that Gonzalez can play as many snaps as he wants when the Falcons (4-11) face the Carolina Panthers (11-4) at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
"I know it will be a very emotional week for Tony and his teammates," Smith said. "Tony has had a great career. He's such a good leader."
Gonzalez caught eight passes for 63 yards and one touchdown against San Francisco. He leads the team in receptions with 79 and had 803 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Gonzalez is the NFL's leading active receiver and ranks fifth in NFL history with 111 career touchdown receptions.
Against the 49ers, Gonzalez tied former Falcons tight end Algae Crumpler for fifth in franchise history with his 35th touchdown reception. He is one of seven players in club history to record 30-or-more touchdown receptions.
The Falcons sent a second-round draft pick to the Kansas City Chiefs to acquire Gonzalez in 2009. He has had five strong seasons and has mentored several of the players.
He has done so not in a heavy-handed fashion, but by mostly leading by example.
"Guys have been mentored by him not only by words but by his actions," Smith said.
The Falcons want to send Gonzalez out with one last victory.
Gonzalez made history in 2011 moving into second place on the NFL's all-time receptions list with a 2-yard catch in the second quarter of Atlanta's Week 7 win over the Detroit Lions.
Gonzalez has pushed his total to 1,321 career receptions in 2013. He is the first tight end and second
player in League history to record 1,300 career receptions.
Gonzalez holds a number of NFL records at the tight end position, including most career receiving yards, most
career receptions, most touchdown catches, most 100-yard receiving games and most 1,000-yard seasons.
He is the NFL's second leading receiver overall and his 1,321 career catches are an NFL record for tight ends.
Since 2009, Gonzalez has posted 405 receptions, 4,131 yards and 35 touchdowns.
With the Falcons long-eliminated from the playoffs, Gonzalez has had time to think about his legacy.
"Consistency," Gonzalez said. "It's never been about the numbers for me. It hasn't been about the milestones for me. ...For the most part it's been about that routine. I want people to remember that about me. It's my routine, the way I approached it."