Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez taking his leave


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Tony Gonzalez is having a harder time saying goodbye to the NFL than he imagined.

As he prepares to host 40 family members and friends in Atlanta’s season finale, Gonzalez sounds as if he isn’t entirely ready to walk away.

When the Falcons announced in March that he would return this year, the 13-time Pro Bowl tight end was “100 percent certain” he would retire after the season.

Now Gonzalez wonders if he could change his mind again if Atlanta returns to playoff contention next fall and general manager Thomas Dimitroff gives him a call.

“I’d have to cross that bridge when I get to it, but right now I don’t have any plans,” he said. “I know for sure I won’t be on an opening day roster for anybody. ... This is it. This is it.”

Meeting with reporters Friday, Gonzalez focused most of his answers on the end of his career.

The 37-year-old insisted that he’s pleased to “go out on his own terms” and added that he’s “thankful for the opportunity” to have stayed healthy and productive for 17 seasons.

Gonzalez ranks second in career catches, fifth in yards receiving and sixth in touchdown catches. No NFL tight end ever put up such numbers, but Gonzalez hardly returned this year to pad his stats.

He craved playing in his first Super Bowl, winning a championship and making a legendary exit.

The Falcons, though, never had a chance.

Julio Jones, Sam Baker and Kroy Biermann suffered season-ending injuries. Sean Weatherspoon played in only seven games. Roddy White made 12 starts and Steven Jackson made 11, but both players were hurt most of the year.

Quarterback Matt Ryan was harassed all season behind a weak offensive line, and Atlanta’s defense was gouged repeatedly for big plays.

“I know I could come back and play a couple of more years if I wanted to, but it’s time for me to go,” Gonzalez said. “It’s time for me to get back to my family, get back to California, where I’m from and explore that next chapter of my life. I’m going to have fun with it.”