Most Falcons fans and anyone that follows the NFL understands that Tony Gonzalez is one of the all-time greats, not just at his position of tight end, but in general as an athlete who took tremendous care of his body to ensure his performance on the field was always at an elite level.
But few understand the historical significance of Gonzalez' 2011 season, a season that earned him a Pro Bowl bid, the 12th of his career. You can start right there in understanding the brilliance of the tight end's career. Gonzalez' 12 Pro Bowl appearances ties him for the most in the NFL since 1970. Additionally, Gonzalez holds the Pro Bowl record for total touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards.
Over the course of a few weeks in the middle of the 2011 season, Gonzalez began bypassing numerous records. In Week 7 he moved into second place in the NFL's all-time reception list. He ended the year with 1,149 career receptions. Incidentally, in 2010, he became the only tight end in league history to record 1,000 career receptions.
In Week 13, he caught seven passes for 100 yards, giving him 66 receptions on the season. It marked his 13th consecutive season with 60 or more catches, adding to his NFL record for consecutive 60-catch seasons.
Some of Gonzalez' statistics last season didn't break records, but instead continued to put him further up the all-time charts. His 80 catches last season for 875 yards gave him 13,338 career receiving yards, moving him into 11th place on the all-time receiving list. Gonzalez stretched his tight end receptions distance by a considerable margin in Week 11 when he became the first tight end to record 13,000 receiving yards. When he accomplished that he became just the 13th player in league history to surpass that mark before moving past wide receiver Andre Reed into 11th place three weeks later.
Gonzalez holds numerous other marks spanning his 15 seasons in the NFL. His 102 receptions in 2004 set the record for most receptions in a season by a tight end. His 28 100-yard receiving games is the most at his position. His four career 1,000-yard seasons is the most by a tight end as well.
The rise in the prolifics of numerous young tight ends in the NFL has given the position more headlining players in recent years. Earlier this offseason, some of those young tight ends credited Gonzalez with being the player that helped redefine the position. His career has shown a player that blended the art of blocking, long the necessary skill needed for a tight end, with the ability to be a team's No. 1 receiving option.
Gonzalez returns to the Falcons on a one-year contract, signed in January, for his 16th season, his fourth as a member of the Falcons.