Redskins

Gonzalez another step closer to going out a champ

201301131259467928027-p2.jpeg

Gonzalez another step closer to going out a champ

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Tony Gonzalez remembers talking to Michael Strahan after the former New York Giants defensive lineman won a Super Bowl title in his final game.

Talk about going out in style.

``That's the way you want to do it,'' Gonzalez said Thursday. ``That's every athlete's dream. I don't care what sport it is. You'd love to win a championship and leave. That's where I'm at now.''

It took him 16 years to finally win a playoff game.

Now, he's two victories away from a Super Bowl championship with the Atlanta Falcons, two wins away from going out the same way Strahan did.

``There's no doubt I could play this game another three years if I wanted to, and at a high level too,'' the 36-year-old Gonzalez insisted. ``But there comes a point in your career where you've gotten everything you ever wanted from this game.''

Everything except a ring.

``Really, the only reason I played the last couple of years was for an opportunity like this,'' Gonzalez said. ``Now that it's presented itself, I feel closure coming on. But there's more closure to take care of. It's about winning this week, and winning the Super Bowl.''

The top-seeded Falcons (14-3) will host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the NFC championship game, looking to reach the Super Bowl for just the second time in franchise history. Even though Gonzalez has not fully committed to retirement, there's a definite sense in the Atlanta locker room of wanting to give him the ultimate going-away gift.

He's given so much to the game, catching more passes than anyone in NFL history except Jerry Rice. He's given so much to the Falcons over the last four years, working with younger players and setting an example that all were encouraged to follow.

``We know what he's capable of doing on the football field,'' Falcons coach Mike Smith said. ``But Tony is a mentor to so many players in that locker room. He's not a guy of many words, but when he comes to work, he comes to work. We always tell the new guys in the locker room, `See that guy over there? Mimic what he's doing.'''

Gonzalez's influence has surely rubbed off on players such as receiver Julio Jones, already a Pro Bowler in just his second season. Even Roddy White, who already was one of the NFL's better receivers when Gonzalez was acquired by the Falcons after a dozen seasons in Kansas City, has picked up a thing or two since No. 88 arrived.

``I'd like to think I've helped them with their routine,'' Gonzalez said. ``I'm a big believer in routine. Yeah, you can talk about being great. When young guys come in, I ask them their goals. They all want to be Pro Bowl players. Well, how are you going to get there? You can't just say you're going to work hard. That's so ambiguous.''

He'll encourage them to settle on some well-defined goals - say, catching 50 balls before practice, 50 balls during the workout, and 50 balls afterward. Whatever works, make it a habit. And keep looking for ways to make the program even better. Even at his age, Gonzalez still tweaks his regimen if he comes upon something new that might give him an edge.

The 49ers (12-4-1) will have their hands full trying to defend everyone in what Gonzalez calls the PYP offense - Pick Your Poison. But the ageless tight end could be even more of a factor Sunday, facing a defense that doesn't stray far from its base packages and relies heavily on its linebackers in coverage.

As good as they are, Pro Bowlers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith could have their hands full trying to cover Gonzalez, even if he has lost a step or two.

``He's still playing at a high level for them. He's still making big plays for them,'' Willis said. ``He may not be as fast as he used to be, but he's really crafty and knows how to get open.''

For Gonzalez, the idea of working harder than anyone else was instilled at an early age, but the benefits of setting a routine became apparent in his second season with the Chiefs. Facing high expectations after moving into the starting lineup, he dropped 17 passes. He knew something had to change, so he started reading books on other great athletes, from Rice to Michael Jordan.

``When I looked at their routines, I couldn't believe how much work goes into being a great player,'' Gonzalez said. ``I knew if I wanted to be great, this is what I've got to do. I came up with a routine. I started adding to it and changing it a little every year, but it kind of stays the same too. I'm always looking for an advantage.''

His methods have sure paid off. Gonzalez has 1,242 receptions and 103 touchdown catches, sixth on the career list. This season, he led the Falcons with 93 receptions for 930 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gonzalez was really at his best last week in the divisional playoff against Seattle. He made a brilliant touchdown catch in the back of the end zone, leaping up to snatch the ball away from a defender like the basketball player he was in college, boxing out for a rebound. He made a couple of other impressive grabs when it looked like he was completely covered.

Finally, after the Falcons squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter and seemed on the verge of handing Gonzalez another playoff loss, he hauled in a 19-yard pass, picking up a few extra yards with a nifty move after the catch, to set up Matt Bryant's winning 49-yard field goal with just 8 seconds remaining.

When it was done, Gonzalez broke down in tears - the first time he can ever remember crying after a win.

Of course, he had never won in the playoffs, losing his first five tries.

``I was thinking, `I guess it's not meant to be,''' he recalled. ``Then to go out there and get it done, to get that victory the way we did, the floodgates opened in me.''

After waiting 16 years to get that first postseason victory, the idea of winning two more in the next three weeks doesn't seem so farfetched.

If that happens, Gonzalez sounds like any uncertainty over his planned retirement will surely be wiped away.

``That's the goal: win a championship and get out of here,'' he said. ``We're right at the door. The door is opening for us. We've just got to push it open a little bit more.''

---

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

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Not everyone thinks the Redskins need to invest more at wide receiver

paul_richardson_smile.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Not everyone thinks the Redskins need to invest more at wide receiver

While the rumors about the Redskins potentially trading for Marvin Jones from over the weekend were total nonsense, a reason they resonated so much with fans is because many believe Washington needs major help at wide receiver.

But during a segment of Monday's Redskins 100 show, analyst Trevor Matich assessed the position group and actually thinks that, as a whole, the team should be relatively pleased with the talent it has outside.

"I like it better than I have in recent years, especially if Paul Richardson stays healthy," Matich said.

His "especially" qualifier is a common one, and that's because Richardson is the most established wideout currently on the roster — and he still has just 1,564 career receiving yards to his name. However, a healthy Richardson (which the 'Skins never really saw in his first year, considering he got injured early in training camp and was never the same) provides Jay Gruden the field stretcher he loves to have.

Richardson isn't the only player Matich is anxious to see, though.

"Terry McLaurin, their draft choice from Ohio State, is legitimately a 4.3 guy," he said. "He gets deep down the field and catches the ball in space."

One of the biggest issues for the 2018 Redskins was a lack of speed at every single spot. In Richardson and McLaurin, the Burgundy and Gold now have a pair of pass catchers who can fly past corners, do damage 30-plus yards down the sideline and open things up for other targets as well.

Overall, in reacting to the Jones storyline, Matich really doesn't see a huge need for the organization to make any additions to that collection of pieces. 

"I think that when you take a look at all the other guys, Trey Quinn in the slot, things like that, this receiving corps is fine," he said. "It's not desperate. They don't need to invest resources to bring extra people in."

Now, is "fine" and "not desperate" the level the front office and coaches want their receivers to be? Of course not. But Matich's stance is intriguing, because he's content with who'll be lining up there while plenty of others absolutely don't see it that way and feel a trade would be prudent.

If you're in that second group, recent history indicates this is the dead zone for NFL deals. So try not to waste your time refreshing Twitter over and over and over.

Perhaps Washington gets to Richmond and, after a few weeks of practices and a couple of exhibition contests, realizes their depth chart could use another name. Or maybe an injury happens and forces their hand. But according to Matich, as of now, the offense can function with the parts it has in place.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS

Quick Links

Nerves, excitement define Manny Machado's first return to Baltimore

manny-machado-padres-knee-usat.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Nerves, excitement define Manny Machado's first return to Baltimore

It’s important to remember that Manny Machado *never* gets nervous. Not outwardly, anyway.

 

The uber-talented Machado came up in August of a pennant race back in 2012, as a 20-year old learning to play a new position on the fly. Instead of the nerves getting to him, Machado thrived. It was because of his defense the team returned to the postseason for the first time in more than a decade.

 

And yet, hours before his first career game in Camden Yards as a visitor, Machado admitted that while Monday night he was mostly excited, by Tuesday afternoon, that excitement had turned to nerves.

 

“I’m never nervous,” Machado clarified quickly to a group of reporters he knew quite well the last seven years in Baltimore. “But I don’t know, I guess it’s like a weird nervous in a way. It’s just different. It’s a different nervous, it’s always coming to the same clubhouse, walking through the same door, parking in the same parking spot, taking the same route to the baseball field every day...it was just all different today. It’s a good nervous though. It’s a good nervous.”

 

If Machado was telling the truth, he didn’t show it on the field during batting practice and warmups. The third baseman smiled and laughed as he spoke with fans, graciously took a few pictures, and generally looked like he was enjoying himself.

 

Machado has been the center of attention plenty of times in his baseball career, and that was clearly the case once again. Even Orioles manager Brandon Hyde offered to keep his media availability short and sweet to leave time “for the other guy,” and as his session wrapped up he called out “Manny time!”

 

Of course, while it might be “a little weird” for him, Machado also emphasized how excited he was to be back.

 

“Excited to be back, excited to see the fans out there and take third base again, like I did for a long time,” Machado described. “It’s gonna be a lot different. Excited to take that field again. Playing baseball, going out there, going to bring back a lot of memories...Just excited to take the field again in Baltimore at Camden Yards.”

 

Machado was struck by how many number 13 jerseys he saw around town Monday, and if that anecdote is any indication, he can probably expect a warm reception when he walks out of the visitor’s dugout. He’s clear that he has no expectations, though.

 

“I don’t expect anything...just to go out there and play baseball,” Machado said. “I’m going to see a lot of fans that supported me, and those fans will never be forgotten. It’s going to be fun to see those faces again.”

 

One thing is certain. Machado is definitely trying to enjoy every moment of his return.

 

“It’s completely different,” he reiterated to reporters. “I’m just trying to soak it all in. Trying to go out there, play baseball, take it one day at a time...it’s just a little different today that it’s playing in front of a crowd that I’ve known for the last 7 years, so who knows? Try to take it all in and enjoy myself.”

 

Ultimately, the memories in this town were too many to count for Machado, who admitted there were a lot of emotions running through him before the game. It was telling how often he kept repeating how this wasn’t just his place of employment for all those years; it was home.

 

Of course, the best homes have the best local food, and Baltimore is no different.

 

“You can’t leave Baltimore without crabs, so we’ll be having some tonight.”

 

Machado knows his audience, and if there’s one thing fans in Baltimore love, it’s athletes who talk about Baltimore crabs.

 

It almost seemed like he’s played here before.

 

MORE ORIOLES NEWS: