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Column: Tears of joy as Gonzalez finally wins one

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Column: Tears of joy as Gonzalez finally wins one

The old pro was on the sideline, resigned to the fact that this would turn out like so many games of the past. In the 16 years Tony Gonzalez has played tight end in the NFL, so many seasons ended early that he couldn't expect this one to be any different.

If football is a cruel game, it had been even crueler to Gonzalez. No matter what he did, no matter how well he played, the end result always seemed to be the same.

He might be the greatest tight end in the history of the game. But he's never played in a Super Bowl, never even gotten to a conference championship game.

Incredibly, he had never been on a winning playoff team, something that was on his mind as Marshawn Lynch scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left to put the Seattle Seahawks on the verge of a stunning comeback win against the Atlanta Falcons.

Even worse was the thought that this game would almost surely be his last. Gonzalez isn't doing a Ray Lewis retirement tour, but he gave every indication all season long that he would be doing something different on Sundays next year.

``I guess this is it,'' Gonzalez thought as he stood watching the final seconds. ``Going out with a heartbreaking loss.''

Not just yet he isn't. Not after collecting himself enough to run a perfect route and make the catch that set up a last-second winning field goal by Matt Bryant to give the Falcons a 30-28 win.

Instead of moving out, he's moving on. The Falcons are a game away from the Super Bowl, and if Lewis can fire up the Baltimore Ravens with his pending departure, maybe the Falcons can take some inspiration from a veteran so overcome by what happened that he cried.

``I'm just so happy right now I can't explain it,'' Gonzalez said. ``This is playoff football at its best.''

Interesting that Gonzalez could even recognize it. For years he played on teams in Kansas City that made the playoffs only occasionally and once there never won a game. Then he hooked up with the Falcons, only to be on the losing end of playoff games the last two seasons, neither of which he played particularly well.

He began making up for all that on Sunday by balancing precariously in the back of the end zone in the first quarter for the first Atlanta touchdown of the day. But it was the 19-yard catch up the middle when nothing but a catch would save the Falcons with 14 seconds left that might end up being the defining moment of his brilliant career.

No heartbreaker this time. The big guy finally had a big win.

``Probably the best catch I've ever had, even though it was one of the easiest,'' Gonzalez said. ``Matt put it on my chest. It's the most important catch I've had in my life. I'll never forget it.''

The Seahawks probably won't either. They had to figure the Falcons were going to the man quarterback Matt Ryan calls Mr. Reliable when they needed it the most, yet they could do little against a perfectly run route that gave Ryan just the window he needed to squeeze a throw in.

Neither will Atlanta fans, who, like Gonzalez, still had some agonizing moments waiting to see if Bryant could hit the 49-yarder for the win. While Ryan had a bad angle to watch the kick and listened to the crowd to see what happened, Gonzalez was sprawled on the turf, in tears as the emotions spilled out as the kick split the uprights.

``I've cried after a loss, but never a win,'' he said. ``I thought it was over. Sixteen years. Six playoff games. I was like, `here we go again.' Especially with that big lead. I thought it just wasn't meant to be.''

That it was means the Falcons will play again next week against San Francisco with the winner going to the Super Bowl. It's the kind of thing Gonzalez could hardly imagine with the Chiefs; the kind of thing that up until now seemed just out of reach for the Falcons.

They'll be underdogs despite being at home, and they'll need to put this one behind them to be competitive against a 49er team that was at its best Saturday in a lopsided win over Green Bay. Odds are good they won't have a 20-point halftime lead like they did against the Seahawks, and a defense that couldn't seem to stop Russell Wilson in the second half will have to somehow find a way to contain Colin Kaepernick, who is even more dangerous while on the run.

Whatever happens, though, one thing is for sure: Gonzalez won't have to spend his retirement years explaining how he caught 103 touchdown passes in 238 regular season games, yet somehow couldn't find a way to help his team win when it mattered most.

``I can't tell you how happy I am for Tony Gonzalez personally,'' coach Mike Smith said. ``He just did what he's done his entire career. He goes out and plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He's a special football player and he's a special human being.''

Gonzalez also has a feeling now that there might be something special about what is almost surely his last season.

``Just because we got this victory, this isn't it,'' Gonzalez said. ``Our goals are still trying to get to the Super Bowl and winning it. So this is one step closer for us.''

After 16 years, it might have been the biggest step of his career.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Ravens lower concession prices at M&T Bank Stadium ahead of 2018 season

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USA TODAY Sports

Ravens lower concession prices at M&T Bank Stadium ahead of 2018 season

Enjoying a game at M&T Bank Stadium just became a little more affordable.

On Thursday, the Ravens introduced their new "Flock Friendly Fare," reducing the price of 21 of their most popular food and beverage items.  

The change comes as the organization focuses on revamping the fan experience in 2018. Fans will see an average of 33 percent in total savings and up to 53 percent savings on a single item.  

"As a lot of you probably know, after every game we survey fans to see how we're doing; what have we done well and what have we not done well. Over the years, one of the biggest criticisms we received was for the gameday concessions prices," Ravens President Dick Cass said on the team's website

Alcoholic beverages were all reduced by $1 with the addition of domestic 12 ounce beer for $5.

Chicken tenders with fries went from $11 to $7, while a slice of pizza went from $8.50 to $6. No single item will cost above $9.

On average, you will now be able to feed a family of four for $44 compared to $66.75 in years past. To see all of the reductions, click the arrow in the post below. 

In 2017, the Atlanta Falcons reduced their concession prices upon opening their brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Ravens, however, are expecting to lose $1.5 million in concession revenue due to the change. 

Introducing our new Flock Friendly Fare!

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Vegas odds against Lamar Jackson starting for Ravens in 2018

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Vegas odds against Lamar Jackson starting for Ravens in 2018

Vegas has spoken and they are not optimistic about rookie Lamar Jackson starting under center for the Ravens in 2018.

Bovado, an online gambling site, has set the odds on how the top 2018 rookies will perform and they have Jackson getting 0.5 starts this season.

That number will come as a surprise considering the popular narrative that Lamar Jackson will be the Ravens' starter in no time. The team made it clear they are planning for life after Flacco when they traded back into the first-round of the 2018 draft to select the quarterback out of Louisville at No. 32

Flacco - who is entering his 11th season with the organization - is experiencing a decline in his performance of late, one that can not be put entirely on his shoulders as the team has failed in finding him valuable weapons to throw to. Nonetheless, Flacco's projected 2018 season is very much up in the air and it appears Vegas is betting on the one-time Super Bowl MVP to bounce back. 

However, the Ravens have failed to make the playoffs four of the last five seasons, and if that trend continues into 2018, the rookie could get his shot at flipping the script.

If you're a betting man, it could payoff to bet the over on Jackson. Low risk, seemingly high reward. 

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