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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The NFL trade deadline has passed.
Tony Gonzalez knows where he'll be finishing his 17-year career.
Now, to make the best of it.
Gonzalez will spend at least nine more weeks with the Atlanta Falcons before fading into retirement, and he's not giving up on the idea of extending things just a bit with an improbable trip to the playoffs.
If nothing else, he doesn't have to hear about a possible trade anymore.
"I'm here. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season," Gonzalez said Thursday. "I'm glad it's over now. I'm ready to go out there and finish this season strong. Hopefully we can make a serious run here, because that's what it's going to take."
The battered Falcons (2-5) are one of the league's most disappointing teams heading into Sunday's game at Carolina (4-3).
Gonzalez knows he is running out of time to win his first championship.
"I'm savoring every moment that I can out there," he said. "Sometimes, I think back to when it all started: high school, college, my first couple of years in the league. Coming here (in 2009), I remember my first day showing up here to the locker room. It's not sad. But it makes me motional to think that it's all coming to an end."
Asked if he could share how serious the discussions were before Tuesday's deadline, Gonzalez said he's not going to dwell on something that didn't happen. He simply stood by his often-repeated position that he never asked for a trade but wouldn't have stood in the way if it benefited the Falcons in the long run.
There was plenty of reports about Gonzalez returning to his previous team, the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs, so he could make one more run at a title after coming up 10 yards short of a trip to his first Super Bowl last season.
"Obviously, there was Kansas City. Everybody knows that," Gonzalez said. "I'm going to keep all that private. It doesn't matter what happened because I'm here today. That's the reality of it. That's a good reality as far as I'm concerned."
According to STATS LLC, only four teams since 1933 have made the playoffs after starting 2-5, and two of those squads — the 2011 Denver Broncos and 1990 New Orleans Saints — squeaked in with 8-8 records.
A .500 mark isn't likely to cut it this year in the NFC, not with Seattle (7-1) or San Francisco (6-2) in good shape to claim one wild card and four other teams with winning records trailing in their divisions.
Still, General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith didn't want to do make any move that would look like the Falcons were hoisting a white flag on this season and that it was no longer necessary to play hard this season. They surely remember the benefits of playing to the finish in 2009, when Atlanta was 6-7 and out of playoff contention but managed to win its final three games.
The momentum from that strong finish carried over to the next season; the Falcons went 13-3 and won the NFC South.
"We want to salvage this season," running back Jason Snelling said. "As a group, we've built something here. We have pride in each other. It's never over. We've got nine more games to do something. We want to go out there and win every one of 'em."
With Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones out for the year with a foot injury and the team's other star pass-catcher, Roddy White, hobbled by ankle and hamstring issues, opposing defenses have shifted their coverages toward Gonzalez.
The result: He has caught just five passes for 56 yards with no touchdowns in the last two games, a huge drop-off from his production (33 catches, 339 yards, three TDs) in the first five contests.
"It's frustrating," Gonzalez conceded. "You work so hard during the week, and there's holes in the defenses where you say, 'I can go out there and be successful this week.' Then you get in that situation and you've got two guys on you."
White has missed the last two games and still hasn't returned to practice, sitting out again on Thursday. Gonzalez remains hopeful that the receiver will get back soon and draw away some of the coverage.
No matter what happens, quarterback Matt Ryan is pleased that he'll be throwing to Gonzalez the rest of the season.
"He's one of my favorite teammates, one of my all-time favorite guys to be around," Ryan said. "Certainly he's one of the best players on our team."
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