One big challenge for Kam Chancellor

Posted Nov 7, 2013

Tony Gonzalez might be 37 and in his 17th NFL season, but the Falcons’ prolific tight end is having another one those seasons as the Seahawks prepare to face him on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

The question had to be asked, and who better to answer it than Mike Smith: How is it possible that Tony Gonzalez continues to do what he’s doing for the Atlanta Falcons at the age of 37 and in his 17th NFL season?

“I wish I could give you the answer, and put it in a jar and give it to everybody that plays the game of football,” Smith, the Falcons’ coach, said this week during a conference call interview. “It’s just amazing what Tony’s still capable of doing.”

Entering Sunday’s game between the Seahawks and Falcons at the George Dome, Gonzalez, already the most productive tight end in NFL history and one of the most prolific receivers ever in the league, is having yet another Gonzalez-esque season: a team-leading 44 catches for 476 yards and a team-high four touchdowns.

And remember, this isn’t supposed to even be happening. Gonzalez had announced that last season would be his last season. But he’s back, and obviously every bit as productive and consistent as ever.

But why? And how?

Let’s start with his basketball background and build. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Gonzalez was good enough at that other sport to play it at California, and he uses his rebounding techniques to shield defenders from the ball on the football field.

“Tony has a very good feel for boxing out and putting his body between the defender and the quarterback, so there’s a comfort level,” Smith said.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Seahawks. They faced him in January, during a divisional playoff game in Atlanta, when Gonzalez caught six passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. And in typical Gonzalez fashion, it wasn’t how many passes he caught, but when he caught them – and against who. He had a 9-yard reception against strong safety Kam Chancellor on the game-opening drive to a field goal. His TD came on a 1-yard catch against Chancellor later in the first quarter. He had a 6-yarder on third-and-5 against middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and an 11-yarder on third-and-9 against third safety Winston Guy during a touchdown drive on the Falcons’ first possession in the second half. Saving the best for last, he had a 19-yarder against zone coverage on the Falcons’ drive to their game-winning field goal in overtime.

Now that smarts, and it also can be traced to Gonzalez’s smarts.

“Tony is a very intelligent player,” Smith said.

Crafty, too. Just ask the 6-3, 232-pound Chancellor.

“He’s played for a long time. He’s seen a lot and he knows a lot,” Chancellor said. “He’s a guy that knows how to get open. He’s not the fastest guy, but he’s very crafty and he has great hands. He might not run the best routes, but he just knows how to get open. He knows where to be, and he has good chemistry with the quarterback.”

And he can make the quarterback – Matt Ryan – look good on throws that maybe aren’t that good.

“Tony also has a large completion zone,” Smith said. “And when I say that, he can catch the ball above his head, below his waist, to the right and to the left. He’s been a great guy to have on our football team.”

Not to mention a stats factory during a career that began in 1997 with the Kansas City Chiefs, who made him the 13th overall pick overall in the draft; and has continued since he was acquired by the Falcons in a 2009 trade.

Halfway through his 17th season, Gonzalez has 1,286 receptions, second all-time behind Jerry Rice; 14,744 receiving yards, No. 7 all-time; and 107 TD catches, No. 6 all-time. With six catches on Sunday, Gonzalez would have his 16th consecutive 50-catch season. And, he has caught at least one pass in 201 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the league. With a 12-catch, 149-yard, two-touchdown performance against the New England Patriots in Week 4, Gonzalez has 31 100-yard games and 18 multiple-TD games.    

“He’s been consistent the whole time. That’s what makes you a great player,” Chancellor said. “And that’s what he is.”

That, and one extra-large challenge for the Seahawks’ extra-large strong safety.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Chancellor said. “Anytime you get a guy like that and people look at it as a challenge, I’m always ready for it. I’m ready to maximize my game.”