From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- The only thing missing from Tony Gonzalez's impressive resume is a Super Bowl championship.One of the greatest tight ends in NFL history will have to settle for that omission after the Atlanta Falcons wasted another postseason lead.Matt Ryan passed for 396 yards and three touchdowns, but the Falcons were shut out in the second half of their 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game Sunday."I'm not going to cry about it," Gonzalez said after the conclusion of his 16th season. "I walk away with the satisfaction I left everything, absolutely everything, every time I was on the field."I wish it would have culminated with the Super Bowl, but it didn't."The 36-year-old Gonzalez still has a 13th Pro Bowl to play in, but after spending the season saying he was 95 percent certain he'll retire, he sounded like he's now at 100 percent.The Falcons led 17-0 in the first half and 24-21 entering the fourth quarter. Frank Gore's second touchdown run midway through the final quarter gave San Francisco its first lead.Ryan and the Falcons were left 10 yards short of their chance for a second straight last-minute comeback this postseason. The quarterback led the Falcons from the Atlanta 20 to the 49ers 10. On fourth-and-4 from the 10, Ryan's pass over the middle for Roddy White was deflected by linebacker NaVorro Bowman."On fourth down we tried to make something happen and we just couldn't get it done," Ryan said. "We fell a little short. I thought everybody battled real hard, we just didn't make enough plays to get it done."It was the second straight week the Falcons blew a big lead. They led Seattle 20-0 in the first half of last week's divisional playoff game, but needed a late field goal by Matt Bryant for a 30-28 win. The field goal was set up by Ryan's two clutch passes.This time, Ryan, Gonzalez and the Falcons came up short in the fourth quarter.Gonzalez had eight catches for 72 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown reception with 25 seconds remaining in the first half. The Falcons didn't score again.Gonzalez wasn't the only Atlanta player wondering if he would come so close to the Super Bowl. Center Todd McClure, 35, and defensive end John Abraham, 34, each said he plans to play at least one more season. Even so, they were hit hard by the loss.McClure had to stop and gather his emotions during his postgame comments."It's really tough," McClure said. "You play your whole career to get in this situation and to come up short, it's tough."Asked how he felt, Abraham said, "It's a feeling I can't comprehend and can't even speak about because I thought I was going to go on."No one in this locker room has any vacation plans because we all thought we were going to the Super Bowl," Abraham said. "You don't get many chances in life to get something you want so bad and to have it taken away from you, it hurts. You never know when you'll get the chance again."The Falcons had one last chance, taking the ball on their 41 with 6 seconds remaining. Ryan completed a pass to Julio Jones at the 49ers 35 as the game ended.Ryan said the last pass was intended to be the start of a razzle-dazzle, last-gasp attempt at a big play."It was one of those where we toss it all around," Ryan said, adding the play wasn't executed properly.Ryan took a hit on his left shoulder during the game but said it was "good enough to go" late in the game.The Falcons (14-4) were denied their second Super Bowl appearance. They lost to Denver in the Super Bowl following the 1998 season.Despite all the passing yards, Ryan was hurt by two turnovers: an interception and a lost fumble on a shotgun snap.Penalties didn't help, either.The Falcons set NFL record lows for a 16-game schedule with 55 penalties for 415 yards, but coach Mike Smith bemoaned two personal fouls against his team. Linebacker Stephen Nicholas was called for unnecessary roughness in the first half.A more crucial call came late in the third quarter when defensive end Cliff Matthews hit 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's helmet. If not for the roughing the passer penalty, the Falcons would have had a third-down stop."I asked and it was explained to me as forcible contact to the quarterback on the third down that would have gotten us off the field," Smith said. "By rule if it's forcible, it is a penalty. If it's a grazing blow, it's not a penalty."
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Illinois and head coach Brad Underwood landed their most important recruiting target for the second time in three seasons on Thursday night.
Morgan Park senior guard Adam Miller became the latest Mustang guard to commit to the Illini and Underwood when the preseason co-favorite for Player of the Year announced his decision during a public press conference at the Jordan Brand store on State Street.
A consensus top-40 national prospect in the Class of 2020, Miller's commitment to Illinois gives the program another highly-regarded in-state prospect. Just two years earlier, at the very same Jordan store and under very similar circumstances, Morgan Park guard Ayo Dosunmu announced his college decision to go to Illinois -- a commitment that changed local recruiting momentum at Illinois during Underwood's first full season.
Although Miller's commitment shares similarities to Dosunmu's, Miller's pledge is also slightly different from his former high school teammate. Any program can win one major recruiting war over the big boys. By doing it twice in three years, it's a major signal that Underwood and Illinois are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to local recruiting. Landing Miller's commitment in a hotly-contested race over his other finalists of Arizona and Louisville, Miller's announcement on Thursday signifies that Illinois and Underwood are ready annually to compete with national powerhouse programs when it comes to keeping local talent at home.
While former Illinois coaches like Bruce Weber and John Groce failed to consistently keep, and develop, top in-state talents late in their tenures, Miller's commitment is a significant indication that Underwood and his staff are making positive recruiting inroads at home that could continue to last.
The term "pipeline" has become cliche in the recruiting world. But it certainly can't hurt Illinois to be continually involved with Morgan Park's best players. The Mustangs continue to churn out Division I prospects every single season. And Morgan Park has another high-major junior -- guard Brandon Weston -- waiting in the wings that Illinois is already recruiting.
Illinois will certainly need to spread its recruiting efforts more throughout the Chicagoland area to maintain recruiting stability of top in-state talents. Grabbing a top-50 player in two out of three classes -- particularly in a basketball-crazy hotbed like Chicago -- is significant.
During his junior season, Miller took the city by storm as he was the state's most dominant scorer. The lefty averaged 28.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game -- putting up multiple 40-point games and looking virtually unstoppable during certain stretches of play. Even as opposing defenses threw exotic zones and double-teams his way, it didn't do much to slow Miller down.
Miller already faced a tough set of local expectations entering the 2019-20 season. Morgan Park returns a loaded, nationally-ranked team. There's a baseline expectation for Miller to replicate his stellar junior season. Those local expectations now become enormous since Miller is staying home and going to Illinois.
Now that Miller's commitment is under his belt, he can focus on pushing Morgan Park to a potential city and state title as the preseason's No. 1 team in the area. Illinois can focus its recruiting efforts on getting additional reinforcements for Miller and his fellow 2020 recruits. And by the time Miller reaches Champaign next season, Illinois is optimistic that they'll be a consistent NCAA tournament presence once again.