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Tony Gonzalez set to become first tight end with 1,000 catches

Big Zee

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FLOWERY BRANCH -- Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez needs one catch to notch the 1,000th reception of his glorious career, and it probably won't be long into the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday when he gets the catch.

"Gonzalez is always open because he's a crafty route runner," said Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin.

NFL officials are probably not going to stop the game and celebrate, with the game being on the road. But the ball likely will be rushed to the sideline for safe-keeping before it's shipped for display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

He'll join the rather select group of receivers with 1,000 catches, and he will be the first tight end in the group.

Jerry Rice (1,549), Marvin Harrison (1,102), Cris Carter (1,101), Tim Brown (1,094) and Isaac Bruce (1,024) are the other members of the 1,000-catch club.

"That's going to be great," Gonzalez said. "If you look at the players in that group, it is very humbling."

Gonzalez is holding a contest on twitter.com -- @TonyGonzalez88 -- for fans to celebrate the catch. The winner will receive the gloves he wears in the game, an autographed football and tickets to a Falcons game.

"I wanted to do that so I can share that with the fans," Gonzalez said.

With each catch, Gonzalez, who is entering his 14th season in the NFL, is setting a new standard for his position. He already has blown past Shannon Sharpe's 815 receptions.

"I've never, ever thought about that during my career," Gonzalez said about setting records. "I guess that's a good thing because that means I wasn't thinking ahead."

Gonzalez, 34, was acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 for a second-round draft pick.

It didn't take long for the Falcons to incorporate Gonzalez into the offense. Last season, he was second on the team in receiving yards with 867, on 83 receptions and with six touchdowns. He expects to be even more effective this season.

"I'm right where I want to be health-wise," Gonzalez said. "Really, the big advantage that I have this year is that I understand the whole offense."

After 12 seasons with the Chiefs, Gonzalez said he basically had to learn a new language and translate his ingrained Chiefs plays into the Falcons' terminology.

He had to get in sync with Ryan and let him know where he likes to catch the ball. Ryan had to let him know where and how he liked to do things.

The match worked well, without hurting the play of Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White.

Gonzalez has not been shy about his expectations for the team and his desire to reach a Super Bowl. He played on some successful Kansas City teams, but they never won a playoff game during his tenure.

But all of the preseason playoff talk and Super Bowl aspirations go out the window with the kickoff in Pittsburgh.

"I feel like this is the most talented team that I've every played on, but it doesn't mean anything," Gonzalez said. "We still have to go out there and play the games."

The offense didn't appear to flow well in the preseason. The first-string unit scored one touchdown in 13 possessions, but Gonzalez believes the unit is ready to click.

"I know that we haven't lit the scoreboard up in the preseason," Gonzalez said. "But that's the preseason. It's just supposed to get you tuned up for the real games."

The Falcons believe that Gonzalez is primed for another big season.

"He had an outstanding camp," tight ends coach Chris Scelfo said. "He was more familiar with his surroundings and what to expect of this organization."

Gonzalez is under contract through 2012, but given the labor uncertainty, he's not sure if this is his last season. During training camp he told foxsports.com that it was about 50-50 that he would retire.

"When I said that, it was in jest," Gonzalez said. "I really don't know. I'm just trying to concentrate on Pittsburgh. I'm not even worried about next year. It might cross my mind every once in a while, but I'm not focusing on it."

He concluded that he was leaving the door open to playing in 2012.

"I feel good right now, and that's something that I'm really going to have to figure out in the offseason," Gonzalez said. "We've got a great football team and a great group of guys. I love coming to work still. That's something that we'll have to see next year. I can't say a yes or a no at this point."

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