First career postseason win brings tight end Gonzalez to tears

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comJanuary 14, 2013 

ATLANTA — When it comes to goodbye tours, future Hall-of-Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez never will be confused with future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.

While Lewis’ NFL farewell is a serial sob story, Gonzalez’s has been preparing for his all-but-official retirement in a key of low. But when the Falcons kicked a late field goal Sunday to avoid another ignominious playoff exit, Gonzalez fell to the turf and cried, as he put it, “like a little baby.”

“I’ve never done that,” Gonzalez said. “At least, I’ve never done that after winning.”

The Falcons’ 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks was partly a football game and partly a ride at Six Flags Over Georgia. When Gonzalez watched the Seahawks take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds remaining, he thought of the 20-point halftime advantage his team had squandered and asked himself:

“This is how I’m going to go out?”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan began the day without a playoff victory in three tries, but Gonzalez was even hungrier. The 16-year veteran from the University of California had never participated on a team that advanced in the postseason.

It was a dubious legacy that Gonzalez helped put to rest with his own hands. Literally. The big guy – he’s 6-feet-5, 247 pounds – used impressive dexterity while hauling in six passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.

While he was serving as Ryan’s most reliable target, the Seahawks defense had to wonder why Gonzalez was not mulling a contract extension instead of retirement.

“He don’t need to,” said Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill. “Not playing the way he’s playing. He looks like he’s got 10 more years.”

Gonzalez, at the very least, has one more Sunday, which is more than it looked like he had late in the fourth quarter.

“I promise you,” said Gonzalez, “I thought, well, here we go again. I guess it wasn’t meant for us to get a playoff victory. Especially for me individually, I guess it was never going to happen. But the guys stuck in there.”

As did Gonzalez, whose 19-yard catch on the Falcons’ final offensive play was the turning point. It set up Matt Bryant’s winning 49-yard field goal.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am for Tony Gonzalez personally,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith. “He just did what he’s done his entire career: He went out and played the game the way it’s supposed to be played and the way it’s supposed to be practiced.

“Watching him practice rubs off on everyone on our football team – not just the wide receivers, tight ends and offensive players. He affects everybody. He’s a special football player and a he’s a special human being.”

Inside a surprisingly subdued Falcons locker room – the prevailing mood was more relief than joy – Gonzalez explained that he was “spent,” and then added: “Emotionally, that was just up and down. But that’s football. That’s why it’s the best sport out there.”

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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