Falcons' Gonzalez has unfinished business

He looked back on a distinguished career the week after a bitter home loss to the Packers in the divisional playoffs last season. Maybe the grind of a 15th NFL season wouldn’t be worth it.

Then, Gonzalez looked forward. The potential of the Falcons, coming off a 13-3 season and the top seed in the NFC playoffs, convinced the tight end to return. A conversation with coach Mike Smith at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii left no doubt. There is unfinished business.

Gonzalez, 35, has the numbers that one day will lead to enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now he is focused on chasing a bigger prize. He has never won a playoff game, losing in the first round in 1997, 2003 and 2006 with the Chiefs and last season with the Falcons.

“I looked at our team and how good it was and the guys that we have,” Gonzalez said after a recent training-camp practice. “It should be exciting. Nothing is for certain. I’ve been on teams that went 13-3, and the next year we didn’t make the playoffs. Nothing is given to us. That’s one thing I’ll be reiterating to the guys on the team. We have to go out there an earn it.”

See, unfinished business.

This season may not be the end. From a physical standpoint, Gonzalez, who is entering the final year of his contract, said he thinks he could play “another three years if I wanted to.” With the new rules of the collective bargaining agreement limiting padded practices to once a day, the league is on the same schedule Gonzalez has had the past several years.

“Our biggest thing is we know he is capable of doing some amazing things, and we want to make sure he is playing on Sunday,” Smith said.

Gonzalez holds NFL records for tight ends in career receptions (1,069), yards (12,463), touchdown catches (88), 100-yard games (27), 1,000-yard seasons (4) and Pro Bowls (11). He is sixth overall in receptions and 10th in touchdowns. He is also 15th in yards, just 259 yards shy of moving past Art Monk for 14th place.

Gonzalez has more receptions, yards and touchdowns than Hall of Fame tight ends Charlie Sanders, Jackie Smith, Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Ozzie Newsome, Kellen Winslow and Dave Casper.

The NFL lockout didn’t much affect Gonzalez’s preparation for the season. He stayed in California to work out on his own, as he has for much of his career. Gonzalez said he played more basketball than in years’ past. He also did more “explosive” training, including plyometrics. He also threw the football with his brother at his former Huntington Beach High School. “Business as usual” he called it.

“I’m going to come into camp in shape,” said Gonzalez, who has missed two games in the past 12 seasons. “That’s the thing I’ve always realized. If you want to stick around for a while, offseason or not, you better be in shape.”

Gonzalez said he would have come to the Falcons’ minicamp and a couple of organized team activities (OTAs) had there not been a lockout. While he remained in California, some teammates held informal workouts at a local high school. Gonzalez kept up with the progress.

“He was wearing me out, texting me and calling me trying to see what we had done,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “He always wanted to know what we were working on, what he could be working on, if we were changing things. It was tough because I didn’t really know what the coaching staff was doing at that time. I talked to him about what we were working on and what different guys were doing.”

Gonzalez, who has a current 163-game reception streak, said he has become a more vocal leader as he enters his third season with the Falcons. Young players have sought his counsel, and he is happy to offer advice.

“It’s kind of what Warren Moon and Marcus Allen did for me when I first got in the league,” Gonzalez said. “These are guys that took time to help guide my career. I think I should give that back, and I’m going to.”

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