ATLANTA (AP) — When he first looked at Atlanta’s 2013 schedule, Tony Gonzalez was thrilled to see a late December rematch with the San Francisco 49ers.
Gonzalez envisioned the Falcons exacting revenge for San Francisco’s victory in last season’s NFC title game in Atlanta.
Unfortunately for Gonzalez, the league’s record-setting tight end, the circumstances couldn’t be much different.
The 49ers are 10-4 and close to securing another trip to the playoffs.
Atlanta, at 4-10, was the first NFC team eliminated from postseason contention, essentially making a disappointment out of Gonzalez’s decision to put off retirement and return for a final season.
“Last year was last year,” Gonzalez said Friday. “That’s in the past.”
Even so, the Falcons’ freefall in the standings hasn’t caused Gonzlaez to close out his career in bitterness. He has focused instead on the good times, from his first 12 seasons with Kansas City to his last five with the Falcons, and the remarkable consistency as the NFL’s No. 2 career-leading receiver.
“That’s what separates average players from good players, good players from Pro Bowl players and Pro Bowl players from Hall of Famers,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what I try to do every time that I’m out there on that field. Every play is a chance for me to go out there on that field and be great.”
For the most part, despite only one playoff victory in his career, Gonzalez has done just that. Only Jerry Rice caught more passes. Only Rice, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Isaac Bruce had more yards receiving. Only Rice, Moss, Owens, Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison had more touchdown receptions.
Gonzalez redefined his position, statistically surpassing the numbers posted by Dave Casper, Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Ozzie Newsome, Charlie Sanders, Shannon Sharpe, Jackie Smith and Kellen Winslow — eight tight ends enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He’s already feeling nostalgic about returning to the Bay Area, where he began his college career 20 years ago at California and went on to become a first-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 1997.