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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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Orioles great Cal Ripken: Lamar Jackson is 'the No. 8 in Baltimore now’

Orioles great Cal Ripken: Lamar Jackson is 'the No. 8 in Baltimore now’

There's just something special about wearing No. 8 in Baltimore.

Orioles legend Cal Ripken wore that number on his back for 2,632 consecutive games, a record that will almost certainly never be broken. He was named an All-Star 19 times during his time in Baltimore, along with having two AL MVP awards, two Gold Gloves and eight Silver Sluggers to his name.

While Ripken's No. 8 will be honored in Baltimore forever, there's a new No. 8 chasing his glory. That would be Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

In just his second season and first full year as a starter, Jackson took the NFL by storm. The recently turned 23-year-old led Baltimore to an AFC-best 14-2 record while leading the NFL in touchdown passes with 36. The likely MVP broke Michael Vick's single-season quarterback rushing yards record this season, too, while only committing seven turnovers on the year.

"It’s his time, though," Ripken told The Athletic. "He is No. 8. He’s the No. 8 in Baltimore now."

Ripken's praise for Baltimore's new No. 8 didn't stop there.

"I was always excited to watch the Ravens, but I mean, you’re particularly excited seeing some of the things he does," Ripken said on Jackson. “You think you’re gonna see something that you haven’t seen before. He’s making people miss him and fall down with some of his moves."

This past offseason, Jackson threw out the first pitch at an Orioles game with a custom No. 8 jersey on his back. Jackson thanked Ripken for letting him "borrow" his jersey for the day.

Jackson has plenty of years to go to match Ripken's longevity, but there's a tremendous amount of respect from both No. 8's in the Charm City.

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Lamar Jackson gets help warming up for the Pro Bowl from Drew Brees' son

Lamar Jackson gets help warming up for the Pro Bowl from Drew Brees' son

Lamar Jackson’s season may have ended a little sooner than he would’ve liked, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to have a little fun over the offseason.

The presumptive MVP is in Miami for the Pro Bowl festivities, figuring to be a popular target for young fans to look out for. Among those fans is Baylen Brees, the son of future Hall of Drew Brees. The Saints quarterback reached out on Instagram to tell Jackson his son hoped to meet him.

That evidently came to fruition, as Jackson was spotted throwing the football with a group of kids—Baylen among them.

Jackson has already taken plenty of time to hang out with kids, messing around with them at the hotel and on the field.

In good spirits, Jackson will represent the Ravens and the AFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday.

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