FLOWERY BRANCH — Tony Gonzalez is facing another losing season with a smile.
He says nothing can diminish his enthusiasm for the game.
Gonzalez had hopes that his offseason trade from Kansas City to Atlanta would give him a chance for his first playoff win. He was viewed as the final piece on what looked to be a powerful offense with quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner and receiver Roddy White.
As soon as the trade was final, Gonzalez talked about helping the Falcons advance to the Super Bowl.
Instead, the sinking Falcons (6-7), who play at the New York Jets on Sunday, are on the brink of elimination from the playoff hunt after losing six of their last eight games.
This comes after Gonzalez and the Chiefs won a combined six games the last two seasons.
Gonzalez said Wednesday he remains upbeat because “this is what I love to do.”
“I was talking to the New York media and they were saying how do you stay motivated knowing you might not make it to the playoffs,” he said. “I don’t care. This is what I love to do. I’ve done this since I was 12 years old. This is a dream. We’re playing a dream and if a guy can’t get motivated because we might not be going to the playoffs, then I really don’t want to play with guys like that.”
Ryan has missed two straight starts with a turf toe injury, leaving Chris Redman to make his first two starts since 2007. Turner has missed three of the last four games with an ankle sprain. Neither practiced on Wednesday.
“I know the situation for us to get into the playoffs, it doesn’t look good,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a long shot but at the same time we still have a shot so it’s important that we go out there and play.
“And even if it wasn’t, we’re playing football and this is something that we love to do. I don’t care what the situation is, I don’t care if we’re down 45 points in the fourth quarter, it’s important that we go out there and play hard because this is what we do for a living and that’s expected out of us.”
Gonzalez, 33, says he does not view 2009 as his last chance for postseason success.
“I’ll be back next year,” he said. “I’m not going to get down about it. We’ve had some unfortunate circumstances happen that I’ve never been a part of with this many injuries this late in the season. Your starting quarterback, your left tackle, your right guard, your Pro Bowl running back is down, it’s a tough situation. But it’s a reason, it’s not an excuse. Guys have to step up and play.”
Turner, starting offensive linemen Sam Baker and Harvey Dahl and receiver Michael Jenkins were out with injuries when Redman made his first start against the Eagles. Redman leaned on Gonzalez, completing eight passes for 72 yards to the tight end.
“It’s such a comfort when you have a guy like that,” Redman said Wednesday. “He makes you look so good because he’s so good with his route-running and his work ethic. He’s a good guy to be around too. He’s been a great addition and I’m real happy to be able to say I had a chance to play with a guy like that.”
After 10 Pro Bowl seasons in his 13 years in Kansas City, Gonzalez has a team-leading 75 catches for 788 yards and five touchdowns. He has six or more catches in each of the last five games.
Gonzalez is the all-time leader in catches, yards receiving and touchdowns for tight ends.
Falcons coach Mike Smith says Gonzalez has been “a great influence” in ways that statistics don’t show.
“I’ve never seen anybody work so hard when he steps on the field,” Smith said. “This is a guy who’s been in the league for 13 years, has been to a number of Pro Bowls, probably is going to be a Hall of Fame tight end. When he steps out on that field to work at practice, that’s what he does.”
NOTES: Ryan participated in light drills on Wednesday morning before watching the afternoon practice. Turner worked out on the side with a trainer during the practice. “I think they’re both progressing so we’ll get a chance to see if they can come out and participate tomorrow,” Smith said. ... Dahl (ankle) had limited participation. He has missed the last two starts. Baker (elbow, hamstring), defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder), defensive end Jamaal Anderson (chest) and cornerback Chris Houston (hamstring) did not practice.