FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. —
Gonzalez, who owns every meaningful league record for tight ends, nearly retired after last year's loss at New York before deciding to return. He believed then, and still insists, that the Falcons have all the resources to win a Super Bowl.
Equally enticing for Gonzalez was the chance to win a playoff game for the first time in his 16-year career. He was 0-3 with Kansas City, and is 0-2 in Atlanta.
"I think about it all the time, honestly. I'd be lying to you (otherwise)," Gonzalez said. "This is why I came back, to get through the regular season and get to this point, because I was going to retire last year. But this is why you play the game, and you always think about what you've gone through in the past and the tough, heartbreaking losses that I've had in the playoffs. Hopefully it is for a reason."
The Falcons made three big moves in the offseason to improve their postseason malaise.
Last January, Smith hired Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator and Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator. In April, general manager Thomas Dimitroff traded for cornerback Asante Samuel.
An 8-0 start showed the players that Nolan and Koetter were deserving of their trust. Samuel's loud swagger enlivened practices for a defense that needed to boost its intensity.
It hasn't always been an easy ride. The Falcons looked sloppy in losing at New Orleans, at Carolina and to Tampa Bay in the second half of the season. But they were efficient and nearly mistake-free in beating the Giants 34-0 in Week 15 and winning at Detroit six days later.
Regardless of their opponent, the Falcons will need better production from Turner, who is averaging a career-low 3.6 yards per carry. The team also must shore up its run defense, which has given up a league-high eight rushes of 40 yards or more.
"We know the time is now," Turner said. "This is how you answer all critics and what they've got to say about you by going out there and winning."