Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez Returning, What It Means for Atlanta

Ryan ComstockCorrespondent IJanuary 21, 2011

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 07:  Tony Gonzalez #88 of the Atlanta Falcons turns upfield against Barrett Ruud #51 and Sean Jones #26 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on November 7, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Speaking on Jim Rome is Burning, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez confirmed he will be returning for the 2011 season.

Though clearly not what he once was, Gonzalez still managed to catch 70 passes for 656 yards and six touchdowns—numbers that rank him highly for his position. He was fifth in catches, tied for sixth in touchdowns and 11th in yards among tight ends.

Gonzalez also took a backseat to receiver Roddy White as quarterback Matt Ryan's go-to-guy on third downs, although the 14-year pro remained a big red-zone target.

Even though Gonzalez has lost a step, his return is significant.

He is a veteran presence whose work ethic has rubbed off on the team's younger players. If the Falcons decide to pick up a speed receiver in the offseason, that addition would create more space for Gonzalez to work with, which would in turn give White more room to operate.

It was evident in 2010 that Gonzalez had taught his fellow pass-catchers some tricks of the trade in regards to getting open. The more time they all have around the future Hall of Famer, the better.

Gonzalez cited Atlanta's youth at key positions as one of the reasons he has decided to play another year, saying that he's sure they will learn from the crushing playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.

When with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2003, Gonzalez was actually in a similar situation. The team went 13-3 that year and was the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.

The Chiefs lost their first game that postseason to the Indianapolis Colts, 38-31. Kansas City's defense was unable to make their opponent punt the ball once, an unfortunate distinction the Falcons now share.

Kansas City followed up that performance by going 7-9 and missing the playoffs in 2004.

Of course, Gonzalez was still there and will look to impart whatever lessons he learned from those two seasons on his Falcon teammates, as they look to avoid a similar letdown and make consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in franchise history.

If he is able to do so, his presence on the roster can not be measured in statistics alone.

Prior to coming to Atlanta, when the Chiefs were intent on dealing the tight end to a team where he would have a chance to win before retiring, Gonzalez claimed to have a dream of confetti falling from the sky that sealed the deal in terms of him agreeing to be dealt to the Falcons.

Gonzalez is entering the final year of his contract, and it will almost certainly be his last season in the NFL. If his dream proves to be a premonition and not just a fantasy, he'll be going out in style and the Falcons will have their first Super Bowl championship.

Perhaps Gonzalez will be able to, like fellow greats John Elway and Jerome Bettis, finish at the top.