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:
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)?
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?
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?