FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. —
As good as they are, Pro Bowlers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith could have their hands full trying to cover Gonzalez, even if he has lost a step or two.
"He's still playing at a high level for them. He's still making big plays for them," Willis said. "He may not be as fast as he used to be, but he's really crafty and knows how to get open."
For Gonzalez, the idea of working harder than anyone else was instilled at an early age, but the benefits of setting a routine became apparent in his second season with the Chiefs. Facing high expectations after moving into the starting lineup, he dropped 17 passes. He knew something had to change, so he started reading books on other great athletes, from Rice to Michael Jordan.
"When I looked at their routines, I couldn't believe how much work goes into being a great player," Gonzalez said. "I knew if I wanted to be great, this is what I've got to do. I came up with a routine. I started adding to it and changing it a little every year, but it kind of stays the same too. I'm always looking for an advantage."
His methods have sure paid off. Gonzalez has 1,242 receptions and 103 touchdown catches, sixth on the career list. This season, he led the Falcons with 93 receptions for 930 yards and eight touchdowns.
Gonzalez was really at his best last week in the divisional playoff against Seattle. He made a brilliant touchdown catch in the back of the end zone, leaping up to snatch the ball away from a defender like the basketball player he was in college, boxing out for a rebound. He made a couple of other impressive grabs when it looked like he was completely covered.