In this overanalyzed, blog-til-you-drop, 24/7, Tweet Tweet media world, it’s not surprising that most commentaries about the Falcons generally boil down to these few words: “They’re really good, but…”
That’s what the NFL has become. Teams fall into three categories: 1) Laughable disaster (Dallas Cowboys); 2) Just OK; and 3) “They’re really good, but …”
New England just got whacked by Cleveland. Pittsburgh has lost twice and needed a late field field to beat Miami. The New York Giants were drilled in consecutive losses to Indianapolis and Tennessee (combined score: 67-24). You’re going to nit-pick the Falcons for being 6-2 and having lousy special teams in a win over Tampa Bay for the NFC South Division lead?
The Falcons are a potential Super Bowl team. The record says it. The landscape screams it. Tony Gonzalez thought this before the season and he believes it more than ever — more than last season when he was traded to Atlanta, crying to get out of the wasteland of Kansas City; more than when the Falcons began the year 4-1 (only to fizzle); more than even in July when he saw the collection of players in training camp and realized the possibilities.
“We have the players,” he said. “You can have great coaches and Xs and Os and all that, but it really comes out to players going out and making plays for you.”
If Gonzalez is paying a little more attention to the big picture than others, there’s an obvious reason. He’ll be 35 in February. He can see the end. He briefly considered retirement after last season and he’ll do the same after this year. He doesn’t want the career gravestone to read, “He was a great player, but …”
Gonzalez played in only three playoff games in Kansas City. Lost them all.
He came to Atlanta and had 83 receptions, two behind team leader Roddy White. But the 4-12 Chiefs played in as many playoff games as the 9-7 Falcons. After last year’s 2-6 skid, Gonzalez admits he briefly thought: “Man, I gotta go through this stuff again?’” But he soon convinced himself the potential for a title was still there.
Any postseason success would be an improvement. But: “If we made it to the playoffs and won the first game but lost the second, I’m not sure I would feel that much better,” he said. “I want to win the Super Bowl. I want to see the confetti drop at the end of the year.”
We’ll find out a little more about the Falcons Thursday night when they play Baltimore. As Gonzalez said, “It’s a good chance to see how we stack up against one of the best.”
Win this game on national television and watch how quickly the Falcons become the flavor of the month.
When a player is in his 14th season, the objectives change. Individual honors become an afterthought. He went over 1,000 career catches this season but that was a foregone conclusion. When NFL Films came out with a list of the all-time top 100 NFL players last week, Gonzalez checked in at No. 45, but he barely blinked. John Mackey, the lone tight end on the list ahead of Gonzalez, won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Colts. The first one behind him, Mike Ditka (59th overall), won Super Bowls as a player and coach in Dallas and Chicago. That’s what stands out to Gonzalez.
“I don’t want to be that guy [who's in the Hall of Fame without a title],” he said.
And if it happened?
“I know this is the ultimate team sport. I hope it doesn’t happen. But if I did retire without a Super Bowl ring, I wouldn’t think I had any less of a career. I’m glad I can say that. It’s taken me a while to get to that point.”
It’s just not the punctuation he’s looking for.
“I look at us now and think the sky’s the limit,” he said. “Why not us?”