By Steve Corkran
Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 at 3:20 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez has been a thorn in the Raiders side for most of his 16 NFL seasons, especially as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
If all goes according to plan, the Raiders will face Gonzalez for the final time Sunday, when the Raiders play the Atlanta Falcons on the road. Well, that is unless the Raiders and Falcons advance to the Super Bowl.
Gonzalez says he intends to retire after this season, even though he leads the NFL in receptions through five games.
“I’m still sticking to it,” Gonzalez said in a conference call with Bay Area medai. “I’m having some fun but I haven’t changed my mind at all. I’m still at 95 percent. I’m never ever going to say 100 percent. I’m just enjoying it one week at a time. I’m lucky enough to stick around this long. To end it like this, playing with some great players, great quarterback, great receivers outside, it’s a lot of fun.”
Falcons coach Mike Smith said he’s holding out hope that Gonzalez changes his mind at some point.
“I’m hoping for that 5 percent,” Smith said. “That’s all you can do. Tony’s without a doubt in my mind the greatest tight end to ever play the game, and he’s been a great addition to our football team and our organization.”
In 23 games vs. the Raiders, Gonzalez has 121 receptions for 1,473 yards and eight touchdowns. He missed one game with an injury. Gonzalez’ team won 16 of the 24 games against the Raiders.
Through the years, Gonzalez created a slew of memorable moments and milestones against the Raiders.
His first victory came against the Raiders on that infamous Monday night game in 1997, when Andre Rison caught a game-deciding touchdown pass from Elvis Grbac with 3 seconds left.
His longest touchdown reception came against the Raiders — 73 yards. The Raiders knocked the Chiefs out of the playoffs race in the regular-season finale in 1999 by overcoming a 17-0 deficit at Arrowhead Stadium.
Gonzalez also is quite fond of the memories from playing so many games at the Oakland Coliseum against a Raiders team he grew up rooting for in Los Angeles.
“I tell people that’s one of my favorite places to play, going out there, going into that chaos out there with all those fans and all that nuttiness,” Gonzalez said. “So, I kind of miss that.”
The Raiders certainly won’t miss searching for ways to defend Gonzalez, who is a sure-fire Pro Football Hall of Famer five years after he retires.
Former 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice is the only other player in league history with more receptions than Gonzalez. That won’t ever change, Gonzalez said.
“Jerry can have that record,” Gonzalez said. “I see Jerry every offseason and if that subject comes up, I’m always telling him, ‘Man, you’re record is safe because I’m definitely breaking that.’ Even if there’s a slight chance I did come back next year, that would definitely be my last year, so there’s no way. That record is safe with Jerry. That and the Dancing With The Stars, I ain’t doing that, either.”
– Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie talks about how much he loves his draft picks. Hence, he said he is hesitant to part with his picks.
The Falcons took a different approach when it came to selecting wide receiver Julio Jones. They traded their own first-round pick (No. 27 overall), a second-rounder (59) and a fourth-rounder (124) in the 2011 NFL draft, in addition to their 2012 first-rounder and a fourth-rounder, to move up 21 spots and get Jones.
“Everybody was on board and, obviously, it’s something that worked out very well for us,” Smith said. “You’re going to have to make those kinds of decisions if you’re going to bring in a talented guy on to your roster.”
Jones caught 26 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the Falcons first five games. He recorded 54 receptions for 959 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games his rookie season.
The way Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff work hand-in-hand is something Allen admires.
“They, obviously, work together very well,” Allen said. “They got the right formula for winning football games. They understand how to win football games and they understand their personnel and what they’re looking for. So, yeah, in that mode, that’s a team that we, in some respects, try to emulate.”
– Kicker Sebastian Janikowski (groin) and defensive tackles Tommy Kelly (foot) and Richard Seymour (knee) were limited in practice today. All three are expected to play against the Falcons.
Allen said wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion) is looking good in practice and that Allen expects Heyward-Bey to play Sunday.
Quarterback Carson Palmer said Heyward-Bey isn’t showing any lingering effects from the helmet-to-helmet hit he received Sept. 23.
“Like he hasn’t missed a week,” Palmer said. “He caught the ball really well today. He looked extremely fast like he always does. There wasn’t one instance in practice or in meetings where he seemed a little foggy at all. That’s always the issue. It takes you a little while to kind of come out of a daze, but he’s out and he’s ready to play.”
– If the Raiders are going to emerge from their funk running the ball, now would seem to be the time, given the Falcons allow an average of 5.4 yards per carry this season.
Allen said he has seen progress from the running game the past week and a half, even though he isn’t about to make any radical changes.
“Well, you can’t throw everything out and just start over in the middle of the year,” Allen said. “So, yeah, there’s been a few tweaks, a few emphasis points, but nothing like a drastic change, other than we got to execute better. … We’ll see what it looks like when we go out and play on Sunday.”
Palmer said he realizes that people not associated with the Raiders aren’t pleased with the run game, but he said the team’s best bet is to run the ball even more because it puts the ball in the hands of their “best player.”
McFadden agrees that the run game is about to bust out any game now.
“You can see it,” McFadden said. “We see it out there. Guys keep grinding, like I say. It’s one of those things that you have to keep pushing and eventually it’s going to start hitting and it’s something we feel like we’ve been doing lately.”
– The Raiders are in the midst of a nine-game losing streak in terms of games played immediately after a bye week.
Palmer said he expects the Raiders to come out firing Sunday.
“It shouldn’t be hard there,” Palmer said. “There’s only two undefeated teams left. Their crowd is going to be really loud and intense, so it shouldn’t take us long to wake up.
“You’ve got a little bit of rust coming off of a bye but hopefully we shake that off fast. I expect us to. As big of a game as we’re going into and as difficult a situation, the hostile environment we’re going into, I expect we’ll bounce back and be ready to play.”
– Defensive end Andre Carter practiced in pads today for the first time since last year, when he was with the New England Patriots.
“It was good,” Carter said. “I felt like a new kid in school. It’s all great. I felt like I haven’t lost a step, getting accustomed to hitting. It’s definitely going to come down to the game as far as tackling, because you can’t really implement it at practice. You just go.
“I don’t have the preseason, I don’t have the training camp. You got to know what you’re going to do. You got to know your angles and just go ahead and go.”
Carter likely will get his first chance to go in a game Sunday. He hasn’t appeared in a game since he was signed by the Raiders two weeks ago.