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No more 2nd chances for Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez

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No more 2nd chances for Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Tony Gonzalez has no intention of pulling a Ray Lewis before retirement.

There won't any lining up with the defense for the final play. Certainly there won't be anything resembling the Baltimore linebacker's trademark dance.

``You don't want to see me dance,'' Gonzalez joked Thursday, chuckling at the very thought. ``That's not a pretty thing. Trust me.''

While his dance skills may need some work, Gonzalez has hit just about every mark during his 16 years in the NFL.

All but one, that is.

As hard as it seems to believe, given his lengthy list of accomplishments while becoming perhaps the greatest tight end in football history, Gonzalez has never won a game on the biggest stage.

Not even one.

The gaping hole on his playoff resume eats at Gonzalez deeply.

``I'm not going to lie to you,'' he said. ``I really, really, really want to win this game.''

If the 36-year-old Gonzalez is to be believed, he's down to his final chance. The Atlanta tight end has maintained all year that retirement is 95 percent certain after the final game, and he's not backed down one iota despite an age-defying season in one of the NFL's most potent offenses.

So, if he doesn't get it done on Sunday, when the top-seeded Falcons (13-3) host the surging Seattle Seahawks (12-5) in an NFC divisional game, there likely won't be a chance for a do-over.

``For me, obviously, this could be it,'' Gonzalez said. ``There is no tomorrow. There is no saying, `We'll get `em next year.' It's about going out there and trying to finish on the right note.''

He's already done more than enough to start writing his speech for Canton. No tight end in NFL history has more receptions (1,242), receiving yards (14,268), touchdown catches (103), 100-yard games (30), Pro Bowl appearances (12) and 1,000-yard seasons (four).

Even more remarkable, Gonzalez shows no signs of slowing down.

This season, he led the Falcons with 93 receptions, no small feat on a team that also includes Roddy White and Julio Jones. He's totaled 930 yards receiving, his best output since being traded from Kansas City to the Falcons four years ago, eclipsed only by his 1,000-yard seasons with the Chiefs.

Fanatical about his workout program and always on the lookout for any new trend or discovery that might help him stay in peak physical condition, Gonzalez might not be quite as fast as that two-sport player who entered the league with the Chiefs in 1997. But no one is more in tune with his body, which is why quarterback Matt Ryan will always start looking for No. 88 when everyone else is covered.

``I tell him he's old all the time, so I guess his age does cross my mind every now and then,'' the 27-year-old Ryan said with a smile. ``But he certainly doesn't play that way. He keeps himself in perfect shape, takes care of himself as well as anybody. That's why I keep telling him he could play a couple of more years.''

The Falcons have made it clear they would love for Gonzalez to put off retirement for at least one more season, and he's left a slight crack open to a possible return.

He won't be making any definite plans before his final game, as Lewis did with the Ravens; in fact, there's unlikely to be any sort of announcement right after the season, either.

``It will probably be well into the offseason,'' Gonzalez revealed Thursday, about as definitive as he's been on how this will all play out. ``I want to make sure that I make the right decision.''

He pauses and considers his next words carefully.

``I'm not going to play that game with the media, and I'm really not going to play that game with my team,'' Gonzalez said. ``So, we'll see.''

The chance to get out while still in reasonably good health is no small consideration, especially with the news Thursday that former NFL star Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease often linked with repeated blows to the head when he killed himself with a gunshot to the chest last year.

Gonzalez said he actually feels as good as he has in years, a testament to the Falcons giving him plenty of days off from practice and allowing him to essentially run his own workout program. He's got a way of conveying that message to tight ends coach Chris Scelfo.

``I always tell him, `Do you want it today or do you want in on Sunday?''' Gonzalez said. ``He always tells me, `I want it on Sunday.' So, I've been rested throughout the season. But I've just been lucky, too. I haven't taken any hard hits or had any serious injuries.''

Luck doesn't have all that much to do with it.

Going back to his college days, when he also played basketball at the University of California, he learned to put his hoop skills to use on the gridiron. No one is better at going up to pull down high throws. No one is better at using his body to shield defenders away from the ball. Not one is better at giving the slightest little twitch to get away from the full force of a blow.

``He has a very good knack of using his body,'' Falcons coach Mike Smith said. ``That's his basketball background in terms of trying to go up and get rebounds and box out.''

This is the fourth time Gonzalez has been on a 13-win team heading into the playoffs. Just two years ago, the Falcons were in the exact same position as they are now, needing two wins at home to reach the Super Bowl. Instead, they were blown out in the divisional round by Green Bay, 48-21.

A first-round loss to the Giants in last year's playoffs left Gonzalez at 0-for-5 in the postseason.

He believes this is his best chance yet to finally end the drought, playing on a tight-knit team with loads of talent.

And, when he's all alone and his mind wanders a bit, he'll envision what it would be like to be in the middle of the field with confetti falling all around in his final game.

To not only be a playoff winner, but to be a champion.

``Maybe if we had won the Super Bowl in my first year,'' he said, sounding perpetually hopeful, ``it wouldn't have been as sweet doing it in my last year.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

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To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

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Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

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Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

RELATED: IMPORTANT 2018 OFFSEASON DATES

Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.