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Falcons TE Gonzalez still considering retirement

Falcons TE Gonzalez still considering retirement

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Tony Gonzalez is still 95 percent sure he will retire at the end of the season.

Just don't try to pigeonhole the 13-time Pro Bowl tight end into giving more information about his future - no matter how many light years away.

``I see what you're trying to do,'' Gonzalez said with a smile Thursday. ``Jedi mind trick.''

Gonzalez and the Atlanta Falcons are trying to stay on task this week.

As the NFC's No. 1 seed, the Falcons want to end the regular season with a victory Sunday over Tampa Bay and then use next week's bye to get ready for a divisional round home game the weekend of Jan. 12-13.

Gonzalez said he isn't letting outside distractions take away from his or the team's preparation.

``This is why we do what we do, to be in this kind of position,'' he said. ``It's important we go out and play well, finish the season strong and take it on to the playoffs. That's where we've got to be at our best, and I feel like our team is getting to that point.''

At 36, Gonzalez continues to make enough big plays that he was voted to his third straight Pro Bowl in four seasons with the Falcons. He moved into second place on the career receptions list last season - and now has 1,237 - and is the most decorated tight end in NFL history, ranking first at the position and sixth overall with 103 touchdown catches. At 14,227 yards, he's seventh on the career receiving list.

Gonzalez's physique, work ethic and preparation have factored into helping him thrive for 16 seasons, the first 12 of which he spent with Kansas City.

Though this week's Pro Bowl announcement hardly caught him by surprise, Gonzalez indicated that this bid felt special.

``The older you get, the more people start to doubt you,'' he said. ``Just because it's human nature. You are getting old, (and) there is no way you can move around like you used to. I've been hearing, `Oh, he's lost a step. He's not as fast as he used to be.' It's nice to go out there and play well and tell them, `What do you got to say now?' That's part of the fun - proving people wrong.''

To Falcons coach Mike Smith, Gonzalez still appears strong and healthy enough to play another two or three seasons and add to his Pro Bowl total.

``He's beating Father Time,'' Smith said. ``He's shutting him out. He's playing at a very high level right now.''

As it's been since the Chiefs drafted him 13th overall in 1997, opponents struggle to defend the 6-foot-5, 247-pound Southern California native in man-to-man coverage because linebackers usually lack the speed and defensive backs lack the size to disrupt his routes.

In last week's win at Detroit, Gonzalez caught just one pass, but that's mostly because the Lions decided to put two men on him and use their cornerbacks in single coverage against Roddy White and Julio Jones.

White and Jones combined for 15 catches, 224 yards receiving and three touchdowns, big numbers that Gonzalez credits not only to Atlanta's wideout tandem but also to quarterback Matt Ryan's ability to read coverages accurately and check down to more manageable options before the snap.

Gonzalez believes there's a good reason the Falcons rank fifth in passing, second in third-down efficiency and fifth in scoring average.

``The most important thing you can have with a quarterback is timing and anticipation,'' he said. ``He knows where I'm going to go before I go sometimes. And I kind of know what he's thinking as well and we work off each other, and it's a beautiful thing when it's going in the right direction.''

Smith appreciates Gonzalez's willingness to do whatever coaches ask of him. Such was the case last week when Ryan threw a screen pass to the left side for White, who outran the coverage for a 39-yard touchdown, but not before Gonzalez and left tackle Sam Baker held blocks to create space.

``Tony was the one who got it started, and Sam was cleaning up in the alley,'' Smith said. ``Once we got those two blocks, Roddy did the rest and did a nice job of running down the sideline.''

For all of Gonzalez's impressive career numbers, his ability to avoid fumbles has taken on a legend of its own. He hasn't fumbled since Week 16 of 2006, and the last time he lost a fumble was in Week 5 of 1999 - a span of 217 straight games and 1,126 receptions.

``It probably will get noted for Hall of Fame stuff when they start talking about Tony being inducted,'' Smith said. ``His statistics are unbelievable. Touchdown catches, number of catches, what he does after he catches the ball. He's done a great job, and I think a lot of it is the work he does out on the practice field.''

Gonzalez is just pleased that he's reached Week 17 for what could be the final regular season game of his career.

Winning a Super Bowl is all that matters, particularly for a respected veteran still looking for his first career playoff victory.

Just don't ask him about coming back next season.

``Let's finish this year,'' he said, ``and hopefully get that Super Bowl ring.''

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Ways to jump-start the Wizards sooner than later

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Ways to jump-start the Wizards sooner than later

We’ve reached Tuesday, a game day. The Los Angeles Clippers and Marcin Gortat are in town. What timing. Their arrival and the contest itself aren’t the main focus, not after Monday's drama. What changes if any the Wizards make is.

In the short-term, think lineup and rotation. For the big picture, don’t start crossing names off the roster just yet.

Monday’s headlines included an ESPN report  that the Wizards “started to deliver teams an impression that every player on their roster -- including All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal -- is available for discussion in trade scenarios.” It would be the surprise of all surprises for a trade to go down before Tuesday’s tipoff.

Despite the 5-11 start and contrary to the report, Wall and Beal have not been made openly available on the trade market, multiple league sources tell NBC Sports Washington. Despite the frustrating and taxing start, 66 games remain in the regular season. For a needed turnaround, Wall and Beal are the types of talented players required.

Yet something must change immediately. The Wizards have lost two in a row, both by at least 10 points. They trailed by 20 points in the first quarter and by as many as 29 in the second half during Sunday’s 119-109 setback against Portland. Head coach Scott Brooks called the effort and enthusiasm “embarrassing.” 

“There is no team in this league that can win games if you don't compete for your teammates,” Brooks said Sunday. "And I got to find five guys that are willing to do that.”

That comment alone doesn’t signal an impending change. Brooks has used such language often over the last two seasons yet the starting lineup remained the same outside of injuries. It’s possible Tuesday is different. Lineup changes are being explored ahead of the Clippers game, according to multiple sources familiar with the Wizards thinking.

There’s a possible cheat here. Center Dwight Howard exited Sunday’s loss in the first quarter with a reoccurrence of aggravated gluteal soreness. He did not practice with the team Monday. 

The simple solution means starting Ian Mahinmi if Howard sits, which is actually something he literally cannot do during games because of the soreness. Using Jeff Green for a smaller look is a tick more outside the box.

Let’s ponder a Wizards roster with all intact.

For all the talk surrounding Wall, Beal, Otto Porter and, based on injury, Howard, Markieff Morris is the starter struggling the most. Never a strong rebounder, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound power forward is averaging 3.6 boards in nine games this month.

Whether he’s slowed by an undisclosed injury or another factor, Morris isn’t providing needed energy and big man production. Those aspects are required when Brooks wants to deploy small-ball lineups, and use Morris as the 5-man. Morris, one of the eight players on the roster entering some form of free agency this summer, played only 19 and 20 minutes respectively in the last two games.

Green, Morris' primary backup, had 13 rebounds in 25 minutes against Portland. That level of board work is abnormal, but the 32-year-old’s athleticism has stood out all season. While the streaky shooter’s numbers are starting to trend the wrong way after a hot start earlier this month, Green is shooting 51.5 percent from the floor.

With Green starting, Morris could serve as the anchor for the second unit, or Brooks could manipulate his rotation so that the pair play together. Neither is a needed rim protector, but both provide more offense than Mahinmi.

Sliding Kelly Oubre Jr. into the starting lineup – for Morris, not Otto Porter – is another consideration. The Oubre-Porter pairing along with Wall, Beal, and Gortat was among the top net-rating lineups in the entire NBA over the last two seasons. Brooks hasn’t used a similar look as much this season.

Where Oubre offers clear help is energy. The 6-foot-7 forward flies around the court continuously even during games where teammates don’t. Defending opponent’s straight-on, even small guards, is another strength. Starting Oubre opens the door for using him against guards when Wall and Beal struggle to keep foes from penetrating.

This shouldn’t be considered a promotion if it occurs. Oubre remains prone to gaffes in team defense concepts. He is shooting 28 percent on 3-pointers. We’re talking about changing the Wizards’ trajectory. All options should be explored.

In either case, another way for more urgency in the lineup could come from using first-round pick Troy Brown Jr. or center Thomas Bryant. Both were on the court as the Wizards rallied against the Blazers. Brown is an obvious Oubre replacement on the second unit if Oubre joins the starters with Mahinmi the likely odd-man out in the spot.

Here’s the hope for the Wizards: Whatever anger was unleashed recently leads to the needed fix now that the expressions of frustration reached the public. Teams squabble. Feelings are hurt. There is no denying Washington isn’t right. Surely, other teams are checking in per usual, but with a bit extra interest since doors may be open. For now, that’s not the case.

It’s easy to say Washington would be wise to get its collective head straight, put forth a good effort against the Clippers and move forward from Monday’s show. We’ll see what happens. Based on the opening 16 games and Monday’s tabloid-esque headlines, we’ll see. Something must change. If it's not the roster, that leaves the lineup.

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Ravens' John Harbaugh wants it known Lamar Jackson can and will throw ball more

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USA TODAY Sports

Ravens' John Harbaugh wants it known Lamar Jackson can and will throw ball more

BALTIMORE -- In a league that relies heavily on the forward pass, the Baltimore Ravens have gone old-school in their bid to reach the NFL playoffs.

With quarterback Lamar Jackson leading the way , the Ravens rushed for 265 yards Sunday in a 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Jackson ran 27 times for 117 yards, Gus Edwards garnered 115 yards on the ground and both rookies rushed for seven first downs.

There's a good chance Jackson will start for the injured Joe Flacco again Sunday when the Ravens (5-5) host the Oakland Raiders (2-8). If Jackson is the starter, it's unlikely he will again slither, slide and scramble with the ball 27 times.

"Yeah, you don't want your quarterback getting hit that much," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "It's not going to last that way. So, that's pretty self-evident."

That said, Harbaugh mocked those people concerned about Jackson's workload.

"Oh, he had 27 carries," Harbaugh said. "You know what he did? He won the game. He played his tail off. Celebrate that, and move on."

Whatever it takes to win.

"It's not what we're going to be shooting for by any stretch, but if it takes that many, Lamar will do it," Harbaugh said. "But, no, he took some hits. I think they knew the quarterback was going to run the ball. They were going after him a little bit, as you would expect. That's something that we have to look at going forward."

Selected 32nd overall in the 2018 draft, Jackson was thrust into the starting lineup because Flacco has a right hip injury that has been slow to heal and could keep him sidelined against the Raiders.

"He has a chance," Harbaugh said, without much conviction.

Jackson ran 655 times at Louisville and won the 2016 Heisman Trophy for his ability to carry the ball, not throw it. On Sunday, his carries accounted for more than a third of Baltimore's 73 offensive plays, and the Ravens finished with 54 rushing attempts compared to 19 passes.

Harbaugh bristled when someone asked him about Jackson's ability to throw the football, and where that fits into the game plan moving forward.

"Yeah, we're going to throw the ball more down the road," Harbaugh insisted. "All this veiled stuff, `Is he really a thrower?' I got news for you: He's a thrower. He's a quarterback. I don't appreciate the insinuation of the question. Lamar Jackson is a quarterback."

He's a quarterback with 256 yards rushing -- second on the team behind Alex Collins -- and 237 yards passing. Collins scored a touchdown against the Bengals, but his playing time was sheared by Edwards, an undrafted rookie free agent who got 17 carries and played most of the second half.

Edwards, who scored his first NFL touchdown , got the call because of the way he's excelled in the days leading up to game day.

"He's been practicing great," Harbaugh said. "It has been a goal to get him more carries before this."

Baltimore's 265 yards rushing against Cincinnati was tied for the fifth most in franchise history, and it marked the first time in NFL history that a team had a rookie quarterback and rookie running back each top 100 yards rushing.

After he was done, Jackson made one final run -- after the referee to snag the game ball.

"However you move the ball is good. You do it based on your personnel," Harbaugh said. "You want it to be a mix, but in the end, the players deserve the credit for running the ball so well."

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