Falcons hope to rebound against Panthers

Gonzalez fights off rumors of trade demand

After losing to the Arizona Cardinals last weekend, the chorus of pundits calling for All Pro TE Tony Gonzalez to be traded to a winning teal allowing him a chance at a Super Bowl ring.  Funny enough, non of these calls are being made by Gonzalez himself.

With the Falcons sitting at 2-5, Gonzalez says it is “understandable” that folks want to see a Super Bowl ring on his finger, but points out not at the expense of his current team.

“But, like I said, I love my guys on this team too much to go ask for a trade. It would be something that would come from them where they said, ‘Hey, it makes sense because we could get something good for you and send you to a team that’s a contender.’ So I understand the thought process behind that.”

The Falcons next face the Carolina Panthers this weekend and hope to add another win to Gonzalez’s victory column.  Great tickets are still available.

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For Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez, Catches Keep Coming

 The paragon of the contemporary tight end is evident at the Atlanta Falcons’ complex. Tony Gonzalez reels in balls thrown before, during and after practice by the assistant coach Andrew Weidinger. The passes arrive at all angles — high, low, wide — as many as a hundred daily.

“He’s got a horrible arm,” Gonzalez said affectionately. “You never know where it’s coming.”

That fits Gonzalez’s desire to simulate game conditions, in which not every pass is a bull’s-eye. The drill has helped him accrue in his career, trailing only , a wide receiver, who had 1,549.

That a tight end in his 15th season ranks second amazes those acquainted with the roots of the position.

“I never, ever imagined one would have that many receptions,” says Ken Herock, a professional tight end for six seasons in the 1960s who has since worked as an N.F.L. scout, coach, personnel director, general manager and predraft tutor.

The position’s transformation was accelerated, if not partly ignited, by pro football’s reinvention as a passing sport. Tight ends are stationed in the slot and at the wing. They are sent in motion, these supersize receivers, and race downfield on post patterns once reserved for lithe wideouts.

“In the prehistoric dinosaur days, they always lined up at the line of scrimmage,” next to a tackle, Herock said while laughingly recalling that a pass was thrown his way about once a game just to make him feel involved.

During the ’90s and early 2000s, Shannon Sharpe was the exception. His 815 career receptions paced tight ends until Gonzalez whizzed past.

“When I got into the league, if a tight end caught 20 passes, he had a good season,” said Sharpe, a Hall of Famer and cast member of “The NFL Today” on CBS who is friendly enough with Gonzalez to exchange barbs about their blocking.

“Now they are so athletic,” added Sharpe, whom Gonzalez considers the quintessential pass-catching tight end. “And they can run. This is the greatest group of tight ends in the history of the game.”

Its ringleader is Gonzalez, who of an interior lineman even though he could bench-press most wideouts. If a laboratory designed the ideal human, he might look like Gonzalez. Body fat is almost imperceptible on his 250-pound frame, and with his handsome features, he could be a stand-in for the actor Dwayne Johnson, the former football player and professional wrestler known as the Rock.

Gonzalez, 35, breaks type for all N.F.L players, not just tight ends.

Once a , he has moved toward the dietary mainstream, but beef — grass-fed, of course — passes his lips no more than monthly. He dispenses nutrition advice to teammates, opponents, Falcons employees — and an assistant coach who has shed 35 pounds.

Gonzalez enjoys his sport but is not captive to it. He surfs and plays intense games of basketball, a sport he mastered in college at California. When he and his original team, the Kansas City Chiefs, were at loggerheads over a new contract in 2001, Gonzalez played on the Miami Heat summer league team and left convinced that the N.B.A. had missed out on the next Charles Barkley.

He supported by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, posing essentially nude with October Gonzalez, whom he considers his wife. (They had a commitment ceremony in 2007.)

Gonzalez does not chase every available dollar. Early in his career, he said, he passed on $200,000 bonuses to stay at his California home with his infant son, eschewing off-season team workouts in Kansas City, Mo.

“Sometimes,” he said, uttering words that would be appropriate on his tombstone, “you’ve got to do what feels right.”

An intellectual curiosity guides Gonzalez, providing stress relief that might explain his football longevity.

“His well-rounded approach to life is something that has truly kept him energized,” Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said.

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Ryan Throws 4 TDs, Falcons Rally Past Eagles 35-31

This is Matt Ryan’s house now.

Ryan tossed a career-high four touchdown passes, shaking off all the hoopla over Vick coming back to face his old team as Philadelphia’s starter, and rallied Atlanta from a 10-point deficit for a 35-31 victory over the Eagles in a Sunday night thriller.

Vick wasn’t around for the end, wobbling to the locker room with a concussion late in the third quarter.

Matty Ice was there to the end, celebrating a comeback win.

“He is a guy who will never give up,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “When you have a guy like that leading your football, it’s going to pay dividends in the long run.”

It sure did on this night.

Two of Ryan’s TD throws went to ageless tight end Tony Gonzalez, who went past Terrell Owens into the fifth spot on the NFL’s career receiving list. Then, Ryan hooked up with Ovie Mughelli on a 1-yard score that brought Atlanta to 31-28 with just under 11 minutes remaining.

The Falcons (1-1) completed the comeback with Michael Turner breaking off a 61-yard run, then powering over from the 3 with 4:48 remaining. Turner finished with 114 yards on 21 carries.

“It was a wild one, for sure, but we hung in there,” Ryan said.

Vick threw for a pair of touchdowns for the Eagles (1-1) but couldn’t go on after getting spun by a Falcons rusher into one of his own players, right tackle Todd Herremans. No. 7 staggered to the sideline and Mike Kafka came in for the first game of his two-year career.

Vince Young, normally the backup, was inactive because of a hamstring injury. Now, the Eagles have to worry about Vick’s health, though he was cleared to travel with the team back to Philadelphia.

“I know Mike is upset,” Kafka said. “When you’re hit like that, you can’t do anything about it. It’s out of his control.”

Kafka did a good job in a tough situation, guiding the Eagles down the field on a potentially winning drive in the closing minutes. But on fourth down from Atlanta’s 22, Jeremy Maclin dropped a pass over the middle that would have kept it going.

The buildup for the prime-time contest was one of the biggest in years for a regular-season game in Atlanta. Many fans in the sellout crowd wore Vick’s old No. 7 jersey from his Falcons days, but plenty broke out Ryan’s No. 2.

In some ways, it seemed like a head-to-head matchup — even though they were never on the field at the same time. Vick was the one-of-a-kind quarterback who put the Falcons on the NFL map before he was caught running a operation, sending him to prison.

Banished by the Falcons, he revitalized his career in Philadelphia and took over as the starter last season. He returned to Atlanta once before, as a backup in 2009, but this was different.

“I feel for him,” Maclin said. “Obviously, he wanted to come home and make a statement.”

Ryan insisted that he never paid much attention to the other team’s quarterback. He’s already led the Falcons to a pair of playoff appearances, making it much easier for Vick’s fans to move on.

“Not being here when he was here, not playing with him,” Ryan said, “I couldn’t allow myself to get caught up in those things.”

They even gave each other a hug in the center of the field after both came out as captains for the coin toss.

“Hopefully he’s OK,” Ryan said. “You never like to see anybody go down.”

Vick has said before the game that he wouldn’t make any Deion Sanders-like pronouncements about the Georgia Dome being “my house.” He certainly couldn’t after fumbling twice and throwing an interception, the Falcons turning two of those mistakes into touchdowns.

Still, Vick had seemingly done enough before he wobbled off. Kafka came on and handed off to LeSean McCoy, who scored his second touchdown on a 2-yard run with 1:59 left in the third quarter. McCoy had 95 yards on 18 carries.

But Ryan and the Falcons hung in there, even though the quarterback was sacked four more times after taking five in a 30-12 loss at Chicago to open the season.

“You just keep getting up,” Ryan said. “There’s a lot of tough guys on this football team and I try and stay in line with those guys and just keep bouncing up.”

There were plenty of big hits, most notably a shot by Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson on an Eagles receiver for the second year in a row. Last year, Robinson knocked out himself and DeSean Jackson with a brutal collision. This time, the defensive back leveled Maclin with a shot that drew a flag for slamming into a defenseless player with a helmet-first shot in the third quarter.

Smith disputed it was illegal hit, saying “that’s the way we teach it,” but the NFL could dole out a suspension after it reviews the play. Maclin went to the sideline to be checked but wasn’t out for long. Robinson insisted he did nothing wrong.

“It definitely wasn’t a dirty hit,” the cornerback said. “I’m not a dirty player.”

Gonzalez’s first TD catch was a thing of beauty — perhaps one of the best he’s ever made. In the back of the end zone, he reached up to snare the ball with his right hand and brought it down to his body just as he dragged a second foot inbounds

“I knew I had the catch,” said Gonzalez, who now has 1,081 career receptions. “I didn’t know if I had the feet down.”

Vick completed 19 of 28 for 242 yards, also going to Maclin on a 5-yard touchdown. In addition, the quarterback ran six times for 25 yards.

It wasn’t enough.

He’s just a visitor now.


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