FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As much as his teammates would like to see Tony Gonzalez be able to go out on top, they don't want the record-setting tight end to retire even if the Atlanta Falcons advance to and win the Super Bowl.

"I told him if we win it, he's got to defend it," running back Michael Turner said. "I know he's 36, but he doesn't play like it. He plays like he's about 26."

Gonzalez was selected to the Pro Bowl for the 13th time in his 16-year NFL career, his 93 catches tying for the fourth-most of his career. But the former Cal standout announced before the season that he planned on retiring, although he left himself a little wiggle room.

That "95 percent" appears to be low now, though, after the Falcons advanced to Sunday's NFC Championship game against the 49ers with their gut-wrenching but thrilling 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

"After last week it probably went up a couple of percentage points," Gonzalez said. "If we get this win, it'll go up to 99 percent."

Gonzalez had never won a playoff game, going 0-3 with the Kansas City Chiefs and 0-2 with the Falcons. After the Seahawks came from 20 points down to take the lead with 31 seconds left, it looked like his record might drop to 0-6.

But Gonzalez's sixth catch of the game set up Matt Bryant's winning 49-yard field goal, and now he is two victories away from going out a champion.


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"That's every athlete's dream," Gonzalez said. "Any professional athlete out there, it doesn't matter what sport it is, you would love to win a championship and leave."

Defensive end Michael Strahan got to do that with the New York Giants. This year, linebacker Ray Lewis would like to do it with the Baltimore Ravens, who will play the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game on Sunday.

Gonzalez would be leaving when it is obvious that he isn't in decline.

But he craves more family time, and he isn't sure that he wants to continue committing to the workout schedule and extra preparation that has helped make him the NFL leader in career receptions (1,242), receiving yards (14,268) and touchdown catches (103) for a tight end.

"I compare it to when you watch those old kung fu movies and see the guy with the long beard," Gonzalez said of his continued success season after season. "The tougher fighter is not usually the young guy. It's the old guy who's been around for a long time. I figure I'm like that."

Gonzalez ratcheted up workouts dramatically after he had 17 drops in his second year with the Chiefs. He had just four this season.

"He's in my estimation the greatest tight end to ever play the game," Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

Gonzalez's impact is not just felt on Sundays, though.

"Tony has been a mentor to many of the guys in that locker room," the coach said. "He's a guy that when he comes to work, he comes to work. Much like all great players, you tell other players, 'You see that guy? Do you see what he's doing? Just mimic what he's doing and you will help yourself become a better football player.' "

Now, Gonzalez is two victories away from getting the ultimate reward.

"The only reason I've been playing the last couple of years, to tell you the truth, is for an opportunity like this," he said.

Asked what Gonzalez's response was when urged to defend the Super Bowl title if the Falcons win it, Turner said the response was an emphatic, "No, no, no, no."

So what will Gonzalez do after he retires?

"Probably do some television," he said. "Talk about football. Stay in the game a little bit. So any network out there, I'm free next year."

  • John Abraham took part in team drills for the first time this week, and Smith said he expects the defensive end to play Sunday.

    The Falcons sacks leader sat out he second half against the Seahawks after aggravating his sprained ankle and is listed as questionable.

    Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder) is also questionable.