Gonzalez finds a happy place in Falcons' talented offense


Think there's a happier player in the NFL than Tony Gonzalez? Think there's a happier team than the Atlanta Falcons to have him?

The union between the future-Hall-of-Fame tight end and a team desperately in need of one has produced better-than-expected results -- for both. Gonzalez has already equaled his win total of all of last season (two games) and Atlanta already is nearing the overall output of receptions from the tight end position in 2008 with Gonzalez's production.

Gonzo has 12 catches for two touchdowns. Last season, the Falcons had 19 catches for two TDs from the tight end spot all season. Meanwhile, in Kansas City, where Gonzalez labored for 12 seasons, the Chiefs have just two catches from the tight end spot and have yet to win.

Dave Martin / Associated Press
With a touchdown in each of his two games with the Falcons, Tony Gonzalez has already matched the scoring production of the team's tight ends last season.
Gonzalez vs. Falcons tight ends in 2008
Falcons TEs in 2008

"He has all those catches but, because of the attention he brings, he also drew a pass interference in the end zone (vs. Carolina) that got us the ball on the 1-yard line and we score on the next play," Falcons Coach Mike Smith said. "His production upgrades us. You'll see through the year, depending on how teams want to defend our offense, where the ball is going to go."

And Smith isn't just talking about the passing game.

With a cerebral quarterback in Matt Ryan, a Pro Bowl running back in Michael Turner and a Pro Bowl wide out in Roddy White, defenses have already exposed themselves to pre-snap audibles in which Ryan can turn a passing play into a run if he recognizes a safety sliding over to protect deep coverage and a nickel back eye-balling Gonzalez. That's freed up running space for Turner.

The options are multiple because Gonzalez has added a dimension that's turned an already good offense into a scary one.

And how about the overall tight end production around the league; after Colts TE Dallas Clark's ridiculous showing Monday night, four of the top 19 receivers, based on yardage are: Clark (1), San Diego's Antonio Gates (13), Washington's Chris Cooley (18), and Gonzalez.

Other vets in new locales who are loving life almost as much as Gonzalez:

» Saints safety Darren Sharper: Let go by the Vikings, Sharper is tied with Oakland's Michael Huff with a league-high three interceptions. Sharper has returned nine for touchdowns in his career -- tying him with Deion Sanders. Sharper has 57 career picks. Wow.

» Jets linebacker Bart Scott: Rex Ryan knew what he was doing when he signed Scott from the Ravens. Scott has eight tackles -- six against New England on Sunday -- and is an intimidator. So far, he's been the first linebacker to leave Baltimore wanting to create his own identity who has.

» Broncos safety Brian Dawkins: Uh, this guy is not washed up. The enforcer who left the Eagles for Denver via free agency has 17 tackles (that's not always good for a safety). However, he's an in-the-box intimidator who has helped a team transitioning to a 3-4 defense to rank second overall in the NFL. Denver hasn't faced an offensive juggernaut yet, but Dawkins' value can't be understated.

Odom's big day could have been bigger

Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom rang up five sacks in Cincinnati's upset of the Packers on Sunday, but he could have had more, "If I were smarter," Bengals self-deprecating defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said.

"I moved him around and had him on the other side some of the time and used Michael Johnson (at right defensive end)," Zimmer said. "I should have left him over there. He might have broken a record."

Odom, who leads the NFL with seven sacks, took advantage of guard Daryn Colledge, who had to be moved to tackle after reliable starter Chad Clifton went down with a right ankle injury. While Odom was placed in a favorable matchup, Zimmer said the key to two of the sacks was Odom's relentlessness on play-action passes -- something the defensive front worked overtime on over the summer.

"Sometimes guys get stymied thinking it's a run and all of a sudden it's a pass," Zimmer said. "We've been telling them once they get the soft set (from a blocking offensive lineman) on the play-action pass, get the second move going. A lot of times quarterbacks think they have more time on play-action because it's usually max protection. We've been trying to get our guys to continue working. So far, so good."

Help for Jacksonville at wide receiver

Former Giants wide receiver David Tyree has been on Jacksonville's short list for the past few weeks and that list grew awfully short this week with Troy Williamson going down with a shoulder injury and Nate Hughes waived. There's no word if the Jaguars and Tyree could be joining forces soon, but it would be no surprise if that were the case. Tyree was released by the Giants during final cuts. He worked out with the Rams last week but was not signed.

The Tuck rule

Cowboys' offensive tackle Flozell Adams will be a few bucks lighter come his next paycheck for going David Beckham on Giants defensive end Justin Tuck's leg Sunday night. Not only was Adams penalized for tripping Tuck, but Tuck, one of the best defensive lineman in the game, was injured and not able to come back. And the commish was in attendance where he could see everything in living color -- and on replay on the biggest JumboTron of all time.

As for that massive monitor ...

The one drawback to having such a crystal-clear picture on the drive-in sized screen at new Cowboys stadium is that replays that might not be in the home team's favor can be seen by everyone. Although it probably would have been caught by someone watching replays, few people in the stadium -- including the officials -- saw in real time that Tony Romo's pass to tight end Jason Witten bounced off Witten's foot, not the turf, and into the arms of Giants safety Kenny Phillips.

The play was initially ruled an incompletion but then, more than 100,000 of us saw the replay in high-definition on the prized piece of Jerry Jones' stadium. Had the play been reviewed -- again -- it probably would have been caught by a Giants coach in the booth -- but the on-field call was changed to an interception that New York eventually turned into a touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham.

Oher getting it done

While rookies Mark Sanchez, Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy have earned a lot of praise, the first-year player who is getting a lot of positive reviews from the guys who break down the film is Ravens right tackle Michael Oher. Oher, the fourth offensive tackle drafted, has been borderline dominant in the run and passing games. The quiet giant from Mississippi has helped Baltimore's offense click in all phases. Teamed with third-year left tackle Jared Gaither, the Ravens seem set at the bookends on their offensive line for years.



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