Falcons aim to send Gonzalez out in style

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons obviously want to send tight end Tony Gonzalez into retirement in style.

While head coach Mike Smith maintains the ultimate goal is to win Sunday's season finale against the Carolina Panthers, Smith understands the significance about it being Gonzalez's final NFL game of a remarkable 17-year run.

"I know it will be a very emotional week for Tony," Smith said. "It will be an emotional week for his teammates as well. Tony's had a great career. He's such a good leader. Guys have been mentored by him; not only by his words, but by his actions.

"That's something that will be on our 'must' this week: We must send Tony out the right way. He deserves it."

The 37-year-old Gonzalez, arguably the most accomplished tight end in NFL history, has made a strong case to make his 14th Pro Bowl with a team-high 79 catches for 803 yards and eight touchdowns. He has a touchdown catch in each of his past four games. Plus Gonzalez hasn't missed any game action this season despite dealing with a nagging toe injury.

Gonzalez is fresh off playing 69 of 72 offensive snaps in Monday night's 34-24 loss at San Francisco. Don’t expect him to take any plays off Sunday despite working on a short week.

Besides, he'll have plenty of time to rest his body after Sunday.

"We want to give him every opportunity to play in this last game, as many snaps as he wants," Smith said. "I'm sure he'll, like always, be a big part of our game plan going in.

"I think the Carolina Panthers will have something to do with how many opportunities that he'll get to touch the football."

In the first meeting against the Panthers, Gonzalez caught six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown while being defended by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Luke Kuechly.

Come Sunday, Gonzalez will try to extend his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 211.