NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - INSIDE SLANT
This is not what Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez had in mind when he decided back in March to return for a 17th NFL season.
The former basketball and football star at Cal-Berkeley is one of the key tight ends who helped with the evolution of the position in a more pass-friendly era.
He came back in 2013 to make one last run at the Super Bowl after making it to the NFC championship game last season.
But because the Falcons' front office woefully failed to rebuild the offensive line, defensive line and have been beset with massive injuries, they are just trying to finish out of last place in the NFC South.
Gonzalez, who holds most of the receiving records for the position, is set to play the final game of his illustrious 17-year career in the NFL on Sunday.
"I'm trying not to make it nostalgic, but I'm taking those mental snap shots, too," Gonzalez said. "If you ask any player around the league and it's not about what goes on during the week. That's not the part that you're going to miss. I'm forcing myself to try to enjoy it because it's tough. But It's the games (I'll miss). It's what happens on Sunday."
Gonzalez has been trying to keep things festive during his last week.
"Right now, I'm just really just enjoying the guys," Gonzalez said. "It's more about them. I am going about my business because I don't want to lose focus on my job and what I have to do when I go out there and play."
Falcons coach Mike Smith said that Gonzalez can play as many snaps as he wants when the Falcons (4-11) face the Carolina Panthers (11-4) at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
"I know it will be a very emotional week for Tony and his teammates," Smith said. "Tony has had a great career. He's such a good leader."
Gonzalez caught eight passes for 63 yards and one touchdown against San Francisco. He leads the team in receptions with 79 and had 803 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Gonzalez is the NFL's leading active receiver and ranks fifth in NFL history with 111 career touchdown receptions.
Against the 49ers, Gonzalez tied former Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler for fifth in franchise history with his 35th touchdown reception. He is one of seven players in club history to record 30-or-more touchdown receptions.
The Falcons sent a second-round draft pick to the Kansas City Chiefs to acquire Gonzalez in 2009. He has had five strong seasons and has mentored several of the players.
He has done so not in a heavy-handed fashion, but by mostly leading by example.
"Guys have been mentored by him not only by words but by his actions," Smith said.
The Falcons want to send Gonzalez out with one last victory.
Gonzalez made history in 2011 moving into second place on the NFL's all-time receptions list with a 2-yard catch in the second quarter of Atlanta's Week 7 win over the Detroit Lions.
Gonzalez has pushed his total to 1,321 career receptions in 2013. He is the first tight end and second
player in League history to record 1,300 career receptions.
Gonzalez holds a number of NFL records at the tight end position, including most career receiving yards, most
career receptions, most touchdown catches, most 100-yard receiving games and most 1,000-yard seasons.
He is the NFL's second leading receiver overall and his 1,321 career catches are an NFL record for tight ends.
Since 2009, Gonzalez has posted 405 receptions, 4,131 yards and 35 touchdowns.
With the Falcons long-eliminated from the playoffs, Gonzalez has had time to this about his legacy.
"Consistency," Gonzalez said. "It's never been about the numbers for me. It hasn't been about the milestones for me. ...For the most part it's been about that routine. I want people to remember that about me. Is my routine, the way I approached it."
SERIES HISTORY: 38th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 23-14. The Falcons have an opportunity to spoil the Panthers hopes for their first division title since 2008 at the Georgia Dome on Sunday. An Atlanta win in the season finale would open the door for New Orleans to win the division over Carolina.
NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - NOTES, QUOTES
--PLAYING FOR JOBS: Safety William Moore doesn't believe the Falcons will have any problem with being motivated to face the Panthers.
"It's shouldn't be hard," Moore said. "It's the last game of the season. What are you saving it for?"
After falling from Super Bowl contenders to fighting to not finish in last place, the Falcons know that change in the player ranks will happen.
"It's going to be important for guys to come out, not only for the football team but to protect your job," Moore said. "This is everything. It defines you. This last game will define what type of person that you are."
--WORRLIOW ON WAR PATH: Moore (124) and linebacker Paul Worrilow (123) will enter the final game as the tackle leaders, according to the coaches' film review stats.
--Linebacker Joplo Bartu is third with 90, safety Thomas DeCoud is fourth with 80 and cornerback Desmond Trufant is fifth with 68.
Worrilow made the team as an undrafted free agent from Delaware can't believe his dream season is coming to an end.
"It's coming fast," Worrilow said. "It's been a fast season. There have been a lot of learning curves. You have to take advantage of your time out there and you try to do the best that you can."
BY THE NUMBERS:
--78.1 -- Falcons average 78.1 yards rushing per game, which ranks 32nd in the league.
--6 -- Falcons' NFL rank in passing yards per game, 267.5.
--249.9 -- Falcons rank 29th in the NFL against the pass as they are giving up 249.9 yards per game.
--135.9 -- Falcons' 29th in the NFL against the run, as they are giving up 135.9 yards per game.
--24 -- Touchdown passes thrown by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan this season after throwing 32 last season.
--16 -- Interceptions thrown by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan this season, a career-high.
--89.2 -- Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's passer rating.
--1,009 -- Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas yards, his first-time over 1,000 yards receiving.
--49 -- Total points scored by the Falcons in the third quarter this season. The Falcons have been outscored, 86-49.
QUOTE TO NOTE:"That is something that will be on our (to do list) this week. We must send Tony out the right way. He deserves it. We will give him an opportunity to play as many snaps as he wants. Like always, he will be a big part of our game plan." -- Falcons coach Mike Smith on tight end Tony Gonzalez' final game.
NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Falcons' much-maligned offensive line gave up just one sack and five quarterback hits against the 49ers.
"We kept a clean pocket and Matt (Ryan) was able to step up at times," Ryan said. "The interior of the pocket was a little more stout. I thought we did a very good job with chipping and scheming and having backs and tight ends chip out before they went into routes. Two tackles (Ryan Schraeder and Lamar Holmes) had tough tasks against that front and thought they handled it well."
--RB Steven Jackson scored on a 2-yard touchdown run in the first half against the 49ers, giving him six rushing touchdowns in the last five games. Jackson has scored seven total touchdowns in 2013, six rushing and one receiving. Jackson has totaled 62 career rushing touchdowns, which rank fourth among active players. His 71 total touchdowns (62 rushing, nine receiving) are the third most among active running backs. Additionally, Jackson has scored five-or-more rushing touchdowns in seven of his 13 NFL seasons.
--WR Drew Davis set up Jackson's two-yard touchdown run when he logged a career long 59-yard reception. Davis caught a 14-yard pass over the middle then spun away from a group of tacklers before racing down the sideline to the Atlanta 5-yard line. Davis finished the game with three catches for 70 yards.
--LB Stephen Nicholas posted his best game of the season, logging 10 tackles (nine solo) with two tackles for loss, one pass defensed, and one sack. Nicholas notched his first sack of the season when he dropped Kaepernick for a six-yard loss. Nicholas has recorded eight sacks during his career.
--DE Jonathan Massaquoi also dropped Kaepernick for a sack, giving him a career-best four sacks this season. Massaquoi is one of five Falcon defenders with 3.5-or-more sacks in 2013.
--LB Joplo Bartu had one the best games of his young career, collaring 11 total tackles (10 solo) with one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit.
--WR Darius Johnson (right ankle sprain) returned to practice and was limited on Wednesday.
--LB Sean Weatherspoon (knee) did not practice on Wednesday.
--TE Tony Gonzalez (toe) was limited in practice on Wednesday.
--OL Peter Konz (neck) fully participated in practice on Wednesday.
--CB Robert Alford (ankle) was limited in practice on Wednesday.
--DT Corey Peters (Achilles) did not practice on Wednesday.
--RB Jacquizz Rodgers (concussion) did not practice on Wednesday.
The Carolina Panthers beat the Falcons 34-10 on Nov. 3 in Charlotte. The Panthers lead 14-10 at halftime as they held the Falcons scoreless in the second-half.
In was another game where the Falcons struggled in the third quarter on offense. The Falcons faint hopes for a comeback were squashed when Carolina cornerback Drayton Florence had a 38-yard interception return of a touchdown with 8:30 left to make it 31-10.
The Falcons have been outscored 86-49 in the third quarter this season. They were scoreless against the 49ers in the third quarter before nearly rallying to victory on Monday.
The coaches insist that make adjustments throughout the game and that the team's third quarter issues are execution related.
Ryan is not sure why they struggle so in the third quarter and credited the 49ers with playing good defense.
"We were going against a good defense," Ryan said. "I think we knew coming into that, again, there were going to be drives where we had opportunities to convert. We needed to convert and create some explosive plays on third down."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Panthers WR Ted Ginn, who came up with a big catch in the go-ahead drive against New Orleans last week, vs. Falcons CB Robert McClain, who has been playing much better after a mid-season benching.
With Steve Smith possibly out with a knee injury, the Panthers will need Ginn to step up. He has 34 catches for 550 yards and four touchdowns this season. McClain is sixth on the team with 64 tackles and has six pass breakups. He doesn't have any interceptions.
--Panthers LB Luke Kuechly, who is third in the league with 146 tackles, vs. Falcons RB Steven Jackson, who set to have his string of eight 1,000-yard seasons snapped.
Kuechly has turned in a spectacular season. The Panthers give up just 87.7 yards per game, which ranks second in the league. Jackson, who's been a bust with the Falcons, has 144 yards for 502 yards (3.5 per carry) and six touchdowns. Jackson rushed for 57 yards on 13 carries in the previous meeting.
--Panthers DEs Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, who have combined for 20 sacks, vs. Falcons Ts Ryan Schraeder and Lamar Holmes, who have both struggled at times this season.
Hardy (11) and Johnson (nine) both can put tremendous pressure on the passer. This will be another big test for Schraeder and Holmes, who held up against San Francisco's Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith. They battled and received a lot of help in the form of chip blocks from backs, receivers and tight ends.