ATLANTA FALCONS UPDATE 

lGONZALEZ CLOSING IN ON MILESTONE, PONDERING FUTURE

When Tony Gonzalez, 33, was traded to the Falcons last spring after 12 seasons with the Chiefs, he arrived with the specific hopes of winning a Super Bowl.

As Atlanta Journal-Constitution staffer D. Orlando Ledbetter suggest, the star tight end has done his part, catching 78 passes for 820 yards and six touchdowns, including the game-winner against the New York Jets last Sunday.

But in the same weekend, the Falcons (7-7) were eliminated from the playoffs.

Gonzalez needs just six more catches to reach 1,000 for his career. He's under contract for next season and plans to return. But how much longer will he play?

"It's depends on what day of the week you ask me," Gonzalez said. "I think that's true of all old guys in the league. Next year, I'm coming back for sure. I'm never going to say I'm 100 percent done after next year."

Don't mention the "R" word around head coach Mike Smith.

"I see a guy that's got the body of a 25-year old," Smith told Ledbetter. "I think he could play seven or eight more years. He's got the genetic makeup to play for a long, long time."

There are only seven tight ends in the Hall of Fame. Only two of them – Ozzie Newsome and Jackie Smith – played past age 33. Gonzalez will turn 34 in February. Newsome played until he was 34, Smith until he was 38.

More recently, Shannon Sharpe played until he was 35. He was a first-time Hall of Fame finalist last year and made the cut from 17 to 10, before failing to make the final six.

Gonzalez's statistics, by comparison, dwarf Sharpe's.

Normally, before the Falcons even take the field, Gonzalez is out catching passes from a designated thrower. He is invariably one of the last to leave.

Wide receiver Roddy White doesn't see Gonzalez walking away after next season.

"Unless he just wants to give it up, he could go for another four or five years," White said. "He's always open. He catches a lot of balls. He's un-guardable, no matter how old he is."

Matt Ryan credits Gonzalez with helping his development this season.

"He's been huge for me," Ryan said. "He's got such a good feel for everything that goes along with being successful in this league. He's been a really good guide for me since he's been here."

If next year is Gonzalez' last, Ryan doesn't want to think about it.

"He can play as long as he wants because he's certainly out there making plays throughout the entire game," Ryan said. "My hope is that he has about 10 years left in him. That's wishful thinking, but I'll take it if he could do it."

Gonzalez won't be going to the Super Bowl this season as he'd envisioned, but he's ready to close out first season in Atlanta was a flourish.

"I feel good mentally and physically," Gonzalez said. "I love playing this game. I still think I can do it at a high, high level. ..."

For what it's worth. ... While Gonzalez needs six catches to hit the 1,000-catch mark tomorrow, Buffalo wideout Terrell Owens need two to reach that plateau.

They would become the sixth and seventh players in league history with 1,000 catches and Gonzalez would become the first tight end.

If Owens gets the two receptions, he would become the third quickest player in NFL history to reach 1,000 catches (in 204 games) behind Marvin Harrison (167 games) and Jerry Rice (181).

If Owens gets his two catches and Gonzalez gets his six catches Sunday, Gonzalez would become the fourth fastest (205 games) to reach 1,000.

The other players with 1,000 catches are Cris Carter (210 games), Isaac Bruce (212) and Tim Brown (220).


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