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Column: Tears of joy as Gonzalez finally wins one

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Column: Tears of joy as Gonzalez finally wins one

The old pro was on the sideline, resigned to the fact that this would turn out like so many games of the past. In the 16 years Tony Gonzalez has played tight end in the NFL, so many seasons ended early that he couldn't expect this one to be any different.

If football is a cruel game, it had been even crueler to Gonzalez. No matter what he did, no matter how well he played, the end result always seemed to be the same.

He might be the greatest tight end in the history of the game. But he's never played in a Super Bowl, never even gotten to a conference championship game.

Incredibly, he had never been on a winning playoff team, something that was on his mind as Marshawn Lynch scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left to put the Seattle Seahawks on the verge of a stunning comeback win against the Atlanta Falcons.

Even worse was the thought that this game would almost surely be his last. Gonzalez isn't doing a Ray Lewis retirement tour, but he gave every indication all season long that he would be doing something different on Sundays next year.

``I guess this is it,'' Gonzalez thought as he stood watching the final seconds. ``Going out with a heartbreaking loss.''

Not just yet he isn't. Not after collecting himself enough to run a perfect route and make the catch that set up a last-second winning field goal by Matt Bryant to give the Falcons a 30-28 win.

Instead of moving out, he's moving on. The Falcons are a game away from the Super Bowl, and if Lewis can fire up the Baltimore Ravens with his pending departure, maybe the Falcons can take some inspiration from a veteran so overcome by what happened that he cried.

``I'm just so happy right now I can't explain it,'' Gonzalez said. ``This is playoff football at its best.''

Interesting that Gonzalez could even recognize it. For years he played on teams in Kansas City that made the playoffs only occasionally and once there never won a game. Then he hooked up with the Falcons, only to be on the losing end of playoff games the last two seasons, neither of which he played particularly well.

He began making up for all that on Sunday by balancing precariously in the back of the end zone in the first quarter for the first Atlanta touchdown of the day. But it was the 19-yard catch up the middle when nothing but a catch would save the Falcons with 14 seconds left that might end up being the defining moment of his brilliant career.

No heartbreaker this time. The big guy finally had a big win.

``Probably the best catch I've ever had, even though it was one of the easiest,'' Gonzalez said. ``Matt put it on my chest. It's the most important catch I've had in my life. I'll never forget it.''

The Seahawks probably won't either. They had to figure the Falcons were going to the man quarterback Matt Ryan calls Mr. Reliable when they needed it the most, yet they could do little against a perfectly run route that gave Ryan just the window he needed to squeeze a throw in.

Neither will Atlanta fans, who, like Gonzalez, still had some agonizing moments waiting to see if Bryant could hit the 49-yarder for the win. While Ryan had a bad angle to watch the kick and listened to the crowd to see what happened, Gonzalez was sprawled on the turf, in tears as the emotions spilled out as the kick split the uprights.

``I've cried after a loss, but never a win,'' he said. ``I thought it was over. Sixteen years. Six playoff games. I was like, `here we go again.' Especially with that big lead. I thought it just wasn't meant to be.''

That it was means the Falcons will play again next week against San Francisco with the winner going to the Super Bowl. It's the kind of thing Gonzalez could hardly imagine with the Chiefs; the kind of thing that up until now seemed just out of reach for the Falcons.

They'll be underdogs despite being at home, and they'll need to put this one behind them to be competitive against a 49er team that was at its best Saturday in a lopsided win over Green Bay. Odds are good they won't have a 20-point halftime lead like they did against the Seahawks, and a defense that couldn't seem to stop Russell Wilson in the second half will have to somehow find a way to contain Colin Kaepernick, who is even more dangerous while on the run.

Whatever happens, though, one thing is for sure: Gonzalez won't have to spend his retirement years explaining how he caught 103 touchdown passes in 238 regular season games, yet somehow couldn't find a way to help his team win when it mattered most.

``I can't tell you how happy I am for Tony Gonzalez personally,'' coach Mike Smith said. ``He just did what he's done his entire career. He goes out and plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He's a special football player and he's a special human being.''

Gonzalez also has a feeling now that there might be something special about what is almost surely his last season.

``Just because we got this victory, this isn't it,'' Gonzalez said. ``Our goals are still trying to get to the Super Bowl and winning it. So this is one step closer for us.''

After 16 years, it might have been the biggest step of his career.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Keenum's concussion vs. Ravens likely played part in new NFL guidelines

Keenum's concussion vs. Ravens likely played part in new NFL guidelines

The concussion suffered last year by Rams quarterback Case Keenum against the Ravens, and the way it was handled, surely played a part in new punishment announced Monday by the NFL for teams violating the league’s concussion protocol.

The Players Association and the league made a joint announcement about the new standards.

Under the new policy, teams could be fined anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 for a first violation of the concussion protocol, or suffer loss of draft picks. For a second violation, the minimum fine will be $100,000.

Major concerns about enforcing in-game concussion protocol were raised during a November game last year at M&T Bank Stadium between the Rams and Ravens.

With just over a minute left to play, Ravens defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan sacked Keenum, and the back of his head slammed violently against the turf. Keenum held his head while lying on the ground and initially had trouble getting to his feet.  

The Rams’ athletic trainer ran onto the field to check on Keenum, but he remained in the game. Keenum fumbled two plays later, and after the game, it was announced he had suffered a concussion.

The league investigated the Rams’ handling of the situation and the team was not fined. However, not everyone was satisfied, including NFLPA president Eric Winston.

“Show me someone that says, ‘No, the Rams did exactly the right thing,”’ Winston told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year. “They didn’t. Everybody knows they didn’t.  So there has to be discipline, right? Because when a player doesn’t do something that he’s supposed to do, he gets fined for that when it comes to health and safety.”

As a result, the NFL and the Players Association have agreed on punishment that could help protect players who have been concussed.

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New commercial shows Flacco should just buy cars, not sell them

New commercial shows Flacco should just buy cars, not sell them

Fortunately for Joe Flacco, he was born with an arm meant for chucking footballs prodigious distances and a body destined to stand in an NFL pocket. That's because — if he wasn't in possession of these gifts and didn't have the work ethic to put them to good use — he may not be cut out for everyday life and a typical job.

Last year, a Pepsi and Tostitos commercial came out and showed that the Ravens quarterback was clueless when it came to party throwing. A recent Ford ad, meanwhile, is demonstrating that No. 5 should stick to purchasing vehicles as opposed to selling them.

Here's the spot in its entirety:

Trying to convince someone to buy a car because it's "like two motorcycles stuck together" is not exactly the best selling point. As the commercial concludes, letting Flacco focus on the field and the professionals take care of everything else is the most ideal use of everyone's time.

RELATED: RAVENS SHOULD CONSIDER A RUNNING BACK BY COMMITTEE APPROACH

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NFL great Jim Brown worked with league to reinstate Josh Gordon

NFL great Jim Brown worked with league to reinstate Josh Gordon

Jim Brown, one of the greatest NFL players of all time, has been actively involved in trying to rehabilitate the career of Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon.

In his role as a special advisor with the team, Brown has been in contact with Gordon, who was conditionally reinstated by the NFL on Monday.

Gordon has been suspended 27 of the Browns’ last 32 games due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The league announced Monday that Gordon would still be suspended the first four games of the 2016 season, but could be reintstated Week 5.

Gordon can join the Browns when they begin training camp Thursday, and participate in team meetings and activities. If Gordon meets all of the league’s behavior requirements during his suspension, he can return in Week 5. He will miss the Ravens-Browns game Week 2 in Cleveland, but could Gordon could face the Ravens when they host the Browns in Week 10.

Gordon is an extraordinary talent, who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013, with 1,646 yards in just 14 games. Plenty of people, including Brown, are hoping Gordon has finally put his problems behind him.

“I’ve talked with Josh twice on the phone, and the last time I talked with him he sounded very motivated and I think he was in rehab and feeling good about it and discovering some things about himself,” Brown told Cleveland.com. “He really seemed ready to take responsibility for himself.”

Robert Griffin III and all the Browns’ quarterbacks will certainly be glad to see Gordon in camp. Ironically, Gordon’s 2016 debut could come against the Patriots in Week 5, who will also be expecting quarterback Tom Brady to return from his four-game suspension for Deflategate.