Late in Career, Gonzalez Can Still Bring it


Tony Gonzalez will tell you he hasn't found the fountain of youth. Rather, he'll say the secret to his longevity is an elixir of hard work, preparation and obsessively focusing on his health through nutrition and exercise.

When most players reach the age of 36, they're either relegated to backup duty, have already hung up the spikes or are simply kickers or punters (nothing against Falcons kicker Matt Bryant, who at 37 is the 12th-oldest player in the league).

Gonzalez has reached the age of 36 and he's leading the league in receptions with 39. He also leads all NFL tight ends with 388 yards. He's tied for first among tight ends (and second among all pass catchers) with four touchdowns.

How clutch is the old guy? Of his 39 catches, 29 of them are first downs.

Not bad for the 18th-oldest player in the league.

Against Washington on Sunday, Gonzalez caught his 99th touchdown, moving him into a tie for 8th place on the league's all-time touchdown reception list.

In addition to his touchdown in the Falcons' fifth win of the season, Gonzalez nabbed 13 total catches and gained 123 yards through the air, his highest total since joining the Falcons in 2009. It was his 29th career 100-yard game and the fourth time in his career he's caught 11 or more passes.

Gonzalez said during training camp that he was 95 percent sure he'd retire following the 2012 season. After a day like Sunday and the start of what he's said is his final season, a season that could be one of his best, he's not backing down from his earlier statement ... much.

"I know I can play for another two years at a pretty good level," Gonzalez said on Sunday. "If the window is closing, I'm having a blast. I haven't changed my mind at all. I'm still thinking of retiring, but I'm not going to close the window completely just in case but more than likely."

In addition to likely every teammate on the Falcons roster, head coach Mike Smith isn't quite ready to see the future Hall of Famer hang it up after the season. He's hoping for the remaining five percent in favor of Gonzalez sticking around for another season or two.

"That's how I'm approaching it," Smith said. "Tony's playing outstanding football, 13 catches yesterday. They were going to take some things away from us, in terms of how they were going to defend us, and when they did, they got the ball in Tony's hands and he was targeted 14 times and caught 13 of them. That's hard to do."

Falcons fans enjoying this historic ride so far through the early portion of this season would agree with Smith; they'd love to see Gonzalez return once again. Gonzalez told's Peter King that he'd have to get back to him at the end of the season to see if he changes his mind.

For now everyone will revel in the opportunity to watch the league's leading receiver —and again, the 18th-oldest player in the NFL— continue to do his thing.

He's pretty good for an old guy.

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