Gonzalez another step closer to going out a champ
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."
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