Player –Years — Rec.
Jerry Rice –1985-04 –1,549
Marvin Harrison — 1996-08 — 1,102
Cris Carter — 1987-02 — 1,101
Tony Gonzalez — 1997-10 — 1,099
FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is closing in on another major receiving milestone.
He needs four receptions when the Falcons face the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. Sunday at Ford Field to move into second place all-time on the NFL’s receptions list.
Gonzalez currently ranks fourth with 1,099 catches. He could pass Cris Carter (1,101) and Marvin Harrison (1,102).
Gonzalez quickly integrated into the offense and caught 83 passes in 2009 and 70 last season. He has 30 catches and a team-leading four touchdowns this season. He has caught at least 70 passes in 11 of the past 12 seasons.
“He’s been incredible for my career,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “He’s done a lot for me both on the field and off the field. I’m certainly glad that we got him a couple of years ago.”
Also, Gonzalez needs 5 yards receiving to move past Irving Fryar for 13th place on the career yards-receiving list with 12,786 yards.
“I quit the first year I played, but my brother made me get back out there,” Gonzalez said. “So for me to say I thought this could ever happen is something I never imagined. It makes it that much sweeter to know that my family and my teammates have been there to help me along the way.”
Because he’s going up against an old friend in Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, Gonzalez doesn’t expect the four catches to come without a major tactical battle.
Gonzalez and Cunningham, known for his blitz packages, spent seven seasons together with the Chiefs.
“He’s over there calling the defenses, and I have a pretty good history with him and great respect for him,” Gonzalez said.
Cunningham is not calling blitzes as much as he did when he was Kansas City’s coordinator from 1995-98 and 2004-08.
“I haven’t seen that on film,” Gonzalez said. “I haven’t seen too much of it all. But he still has his style, where it’s going to be man-to-man, up in your face and letting that front seven or front four get after that quarterback. He likes that. That’s probably why he’s not blitzing — because he doesn’t have to.”
Going into each game, Gonzalez expects to receive some extra attention from a safety and a linebacker. The teams that have left him in single coverage this season have paid dearly.
He had seven catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns playing against Philadelphia, which deploys the same wide-tackle defense that Cunningham runs with Detroit.
“Going into the Carolina game, I thought there was some big opportunities because of what [New Orleans’ Jimmy] Graham was able to do to them the week before, but they kind of closed that up when I got there.”
Gonzalez had a few tips on how the Lions might try to play him.
“The luxury that I have right now is that they did play against [San Francisco’s] Vernon Davis last week and [Tampa Bay’s] Kellen Winslow early,” Gonzalez said. “They want to get physical. I don’t expect him to treat me any differently than how he treated those two.”
Davis, a Pro Bowler in 2009, was held to two catches for 8 yards last week. Winslow caught six passes for 66 yards against Detroit on Sept. 11.
Gonzalez doesn’t expect Ryan to force passes into him.
“Their defense presents a problem,” Gonzalez said. “They get after the quarterback really well. Their front four is exceptional. You want to make sure that you keep Matt clean. Keep him healthy and upright so that he can get the ball out of his hands.”
Ryan appears certain that he and Gonzalez will hook up four times in the near future. If they don’t get them all against Detroit, they’ll have a good shot against Indianapolis after the bye week.
“First of all, it’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” Ryan said. “It’s a testament to how good of a player that he is, how good he’s worked for a long time and how talented that he is. It’s just fun to be a part of those things as a player.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog