Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has put together a career that will likely end with his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. But on Sunday night, it simply wasn’t enough.
Gonzalez hauled in 12 receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns, but his Falcons were unable to get past the New England Patriots and their high-charged offense, suffering a 30-23 defeat that dropped their record to 1-3.
Gonzalez’s night was indeed historic—he became only the second player in the Super Bowl era 37 years of age or older to amass over 140 receiving yards. Jerry Rice was the first to accomplish the feat.
But it was of little consolation to Gonzalez, who lamented the team’s inability to punch the ball into the end zone on numerous occasions.
"We're really, really disappointed in this one," Gonzalez said. "Our offense can only get better. It's got to get better. Sooner or later, it's gonna happen because we've done it before."
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was on target for much of the night, completing 34 of 54 passes for 421 yards and two touchdowns. But the Patriots defense came up big when it had to despite giving up chunks of yardage.
Ryan completed seven passes on the Falcons’ first drive of the game, but had to settle for a Matt Bryant 23-yard field goal when the Patriots defense stiffened in the red zone.
Later in the second quarter, the Falcons again drove the ball deep into Patriots territory, but Ryan was unable to complete a fourth-down pass and the Patriots took over on downs at their eight-yard line.
Only three out of a possible 14 points on two key drives for the Falcons, and that certainly proved to be a factor in the seven-point loss.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith expounded on the need for the Falcons need to take advantage of opportunities in the red zone.
"We're just not executing how we need to in the red zone," Smith said. "We're moving the ball well between the 20s. But we're not ending with touchdowns. You've got to score touchdowns in this league. It's an offensive league."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed 20 of 31 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns, but it was the ground attack that helped on this night.
Backup running back LeGarrette Blount ran for 64 nights, including a nifty 47-yard run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that gave the Patriots a 20-10 lead.
The Patriots then jumped out to a 30-13 lead before Ryan hit Gonzalez with an 11-yard scoring strike to pull within 10 points.
But again, after recovering an onside kick, the Falcons missed opportunities on their next drive. Ryan drove the Falcons to the Patriots seven-yard line, but two incomplete passes and second-and-one and third-and-one led to a 25-yard-field goal by Bryant.
The Falcons had one last chance, again failing in the red zone. Ryan’s fourth-down-pass to Roddy White fell incomplete, and the Patriots had their fourth straight win in the books.
The Falcons won 13 games last season and was within sight of reaching the Super Bowl. To start the 2013, they’ve now amassed as many losses as they accumulated all of last year.
Tony Gonzalez isn’t the one at fault—he continues to amaze with his play at an advanced age. The inability to capitalize on red zone opportunities has been the biggest concern to date.
The Falcons aren’t dead—the 2011 Denver Broncos started the season 1-3 and made the playoffs. But if they’re unable to figure out how to hit paydirt inside the 20-yard line, Tony Gonzalez could be looking at retirement without a Super Bowl ring on his finger.