Falcons’ Gonzalez can still ‘make ‘em pay’

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan(notes) dropped back to pass, felt the pressure and threw a high and tight spiral down the middle of the field. Displaying exquisite speed, body control and hand-eye coordination, tight end Tony Gonzalez(notes) leaped up in front of Packers cornerback Tramon Williams(notes) to grab it at the Green Bay 5-yard line late in the first half of Sunday’s game at the Georgia Dome.

It was a signature Gonzalez reception, similar to so many the future Hall of Famer has made among the 1,050 catches in his 14-year-career, and one so athletically impressive it looked like it could have been plucked out of a 1998 highlight video.

“No,” Gonzalez corrected me following the Falcons’ 20-17 victory over the Packers, “that’s some 2010 [expletive], baby.”

If Gonzalez was feeling a bit chippy after a performance that featured six receptions for 51 yards and his first touchdown since mid-October, the responsible party will bring joy to the hearts of Lions fans. After Sunday’s game, Gonzalez referenced a comment that NFL Network analyst Matt Millen apparently made during the Falcons’ 26-21 victory over the Ravens two weeks earlier questioning the tight end’s effectiveness at age 34.

Given Gonzalez’s exceptional work ethic and obsessive attention to maintaining a healthy diet, this was bound to provoke his ire.

“He said I’d lost a step,” Gonzalez said. “I love hearing that [expletive], man. Trust me, I’ve still got it. What the [expletive] does Matt Millen know?”

I’m going to resist the urge to pile on Millen and instead focus on Gonzalez’s contributions to another impressive victory by the team with the NFC’s best record. In his second season with the Falcons, after a highly productive 12-year run with the Chiefs, Gonzalez shook off a recent case of the dropsies with a big game against the Packers.

Three plays after that impressive over-the-middle grab, Gonzalez was Ryan’s first option on a third-and-goal play from the Green Bay 4. With three receivers lined up to the right, Ryan looked left as Gonzalez sold an outside fake to the corner that completely fooled Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins(notes).

“I was like, ‘Wow, they really bit all over that one,’ ” said Gonzalez, who flashed back to the middle of the end zone and caught Ryan’s throw in relative solitude, staking Atlanta to an important 10-3 halftime lead.

To Ryan, a third-year passer in the process of becoming a star, having the NFL’s all-time receiving leader at his position is an incredible luxury. When defenses devote their gameplans to clamping down on Pro Bowl wideout Roddy White(notes), whose 84 receptions are a league-high, the crafty, smooth and, yes, still swift Gonzalez is a welcome fallback option.

“They can’t guard all of us,” White said after Sunday’s victory. “We wait patiently, and when someone’s covered we’ll go elsewhere. And trust me, Tony can still make ‘em pay.”

Without question, Gonzalez plans to remain relevant as the Falcons compete for a championship. In the meantime, here are 32 other queries, slotted for your debate-ready amusement, with the Falcons right up near the top:

1. New York Jets: What are the odds that Rex Ryan got some satisfaction Monday night after referring to his wife, Michelle, as a supermodel earlier that day?

2. New England Patriots: If Danny Woodhead(notes) helps the Pats beat the Jets next Monday night, how many F-bombs will Ryan hurl in his own direction?

3. Atlanta Falcons: Who’s more comfortable on long drives – Matty Ice or Raymond Babbitt?

4. Baltimore Ravens: Why do I get the feeling those clock-killing Ray Rice(notes) runs and receptions at the end of Sunday’s victory over the Bucs were a sign of things to come in December and January (and perhaps February, too)?

5. Pittsburgh Steelers: After Sunday’s game in Baltimore, will James Harrison(notes) have to take out a loan to get through the rest of the season?

6. New Orleans Saints: Is Malcolm Jenkins(notes) headed for stardom – and was his game-turning strip of Roy Williams on Thanksgiving the Saints’ biggest defensive play since this one?

7. Chicago Bears: Isn’t it time to start giving offensive line coach Mike Tice some serious credit for his unit’s dramatic turnaround?

8. Philadelphia Eagles: If DeSean Jackson(notes) is this sensitive, doesn’t it seem logical that opposing defenders will start figuring out ways to rattle him, too?

9. San Diego Chargers: Did Vincent Jackson(notes) fake a calf injury against the Colts, or are the football gods just messing with A.J. Smith?

10. New York Giants: When Kevin Boss(notes) scored that game-winning touchdown against the Jags, how many fans at the New Meadowlands Stadium instinctively chanted “Bruuuuuuccccccce”?

11. Green Bay Packers: If you can’t run the ball or adequately cover a kickoff in a tie game with 56 seconds remaining, are you really a Super Bowl contender?

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If Aqib Talib(notes) had followed through on his alleged threat to punch an official in the mouth, would a judge with a sense of humor have fitted him with some retro prison stripes?

13. Kansas City Chiefs: Instead of calling Shaun Smith “The Deep Freeze,” may I humbly suggest “The Nutcracker” as an alternate nickname?

14. Indianapolis Colts: Should Peyton Manning(notes) even bother play-faking anymore?

15. Jacksonville Jaguars: According to Maurice Jones-Drew(notes), what do the Jags (figuratively) and ESPN commentator Mark Schlereth (literally) have in common?

16. Miami Dolphins: As Ricky Williams(notes) clinched Sunday’s victory at Oakland Coliseum with a 45-yard touchdown run, was Raiders owner Al Davis pondering what might have been?

17. Tennessee Titans: Who’s more ornery – Cortland Finnegan(notes), or his agent?

18. Minnesota Vikings: After watching Toby Gerhart(notes) bull his way into the end zone against the Redskins, don’t you get the feeling he might rush for about 150 yards against the Bills this Sunday?

19. Houston Texans: Is it possible that this maddeningly inconsistent team can stay mediocre and make its first-ever postseason appearance?

McFadden has gone 4 straight games without a TD.
(Jason Bridge/US Presswire)
20. Oakland Raiders: Why has “Run DMC” become D-minus – and can the halfback get his groove back in time to save the Raiders’ season?

21. Cleveland Browns: When Eric Mangini refers to his defense’s lack of intensity, whose fault does he think that is?

22. Washington Redskins: Doesn’t it seem a lot more plausible that the Redskins would lose the rest of their games than that they’d string together five consecutive victories?

23. Dallas Cowboys: For all the talk about Jason Garrett’s toughness, should we acknowledge his intelligence in not picking a fight with Jerry Jones’ next superstar?

24. St. Louis Rams: Now that Danario Alexander(notes) has more NFL receptions than knee surgeries, will Sam Bradford(notes) have a reliable deep threat down the stretch?

25. Seattle Seahawks: Who ran wilder in the Emerald City – Courtney Love back in the day or Dwayne Bowe(notes) last Sunday?

26. San Francisco 49ers: How much less bright is Mike Singletary’s future looking without workhorse Frank Gore – and has the coach considered a music career?

27. Detroit Lions: Who got carved up more conspicuously on Thanksgiving – Alphonso Smith(notes), or Tom the Turkey?

28. Buffalo Bills: Hey, Stevie Johnson – you do realize that God blocked you on Twitter, right?

29. Denver Broncos: If Josh McDaniels changes his mind about chasing ghosts, do you think he’ll start ordering up some secret videos of these guys?

30. Arizona Cardinals: Yo, Derek Anderson(notes)why so serious?

31. Cincinnati Bengals: Does anyone believe Mike Brown would have paid a $1.50 transfer fee for UFL kicker Nick Novak(notes), let alone a six-figure sum?

32. Carolina Panthers: Was John Kasay’s(notes) missed field goal at the end of Sunday’s defeat to the Browns actually a stroke of Luck?

Michael Silver covers the NFL for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Mogotxt, Twitter and Facebook. Also check out ridewithsilver.com. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Dec 1, 2010