Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is still too busy catching passes to pause and appreciate all he has accomplished. Only one player — Jerry Rice — has caught more passes in the NFL than Gonzalez, whose 1,135 catches is 414 behind Rice.
With seven catches in a Falcons' loss at Houston last Sunday, Gonzalez extended his streak of seasons with at least 60 catches to 13, an NFL record.
He is 189 yards from cracking the top-10 in career receiving yards, has 95 career touchdown catches and is insistent on ignoring Father Time's effects on his soon-to-be-36-year-old body for as long as he can.
Gonzalez doesn't just play tight end. He has redefined it.
"I am very proud of what I've done and deeply satisfied, but at the same time I don't want to look back yet," said Gonzalez, whose Falcons visit the Panthers on Sunday.
"If I look back, I might miss what's going on now and being able to improve today. During the offseason is when I kind of look back, but, really more so when I retire, that's when I'll really take a look at it and say, 'wow,' I had a great career.
"But right now I still have something to prove. I'm always trying to challenge myself to be the best player I can be and not let the people say, 'you're 35 and you've lost a step.' That kind of motivates me."
On a Falcons' offense that includes quarterback Matt Ryan, rumbling running back Michael Turner and razor-blade dangerous wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones, Gonzalez remains a headache for opposing defenses. In his 15th season, Gonzalez knows how to use his 6-foot, 5-inch, 247-body to play even larger than his dimensions.
He has transformed the tight end position, showing teams what having their own big, quick, multi-dimensional player who can work the middle of the field, mixing muscle with moxie can do. The Panthers have two Gonzalez prototypes in Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen.
A former college basketball player at California, Gonzalez can be more dangerous than a wide receiver because of the way he works in traffic or block on running plays. In short-yardage and red-zone situations, Gonzalez has delivered for 15 seasons.
"Where you really have trouble with him is certain situations: third-and-6, third-and-5, third-and-4," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "You know there's a good opportunity the ball is going to him. I watch and some teams on third-and-4 are actually doubling him with a linebacker and a safety. You look in the red zone and you see certain formations where they split him out and try to create a mismatch. Now you have a safety on him or a linebacker extended and you'll see the ball (go) to Tony."