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Gonzalez using Pro Bowl snub as motivation
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) gets away from New Orleans Saints’ Scott Shanle earlier this season in Atlanta. - photo by The Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH — Tony Gonzalez is hoping to end a recent run of bad luck.

Two weeks after the Atlanta Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention, Gonzalez now will miss the Pro Bowl for the first time in 11 years.

What’s worse, the NFL’s career-leading tight end doesn’t know if his strained right calf will heal in time for the season finale, a game Atlanta must win to end their 44-year history without consecutive winning records.

Gonzalez first heard of the Falcons’ inglorious past following his trade from Kansas City eight months ago.

“They talked about it,” Gonzalez said Wednesday. “Obviously they were talking about playoffs and Super Bowl as well, but they were saying that back-to-back winning seasons is something that’s never been done around here. If there is any consolation, I think that’s it. At least having a winning season.”

When Atlanta (8-7) visits Tampa Bay (3-12) on Sunday, Gonzalez’s status might not be decided until the 11:35 a.m. deadline for each team to declare its 45-man active roster.

Gonzalez left last week’s win over Buffalo in the first half and did not return. He could not practice Wednesday and might be held out Thursday and Friday, too.

“I’m still a little up in the air if I’ll be able to get out there,” Gonzalez said. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. It’s feeling somewhat better, but there’s still a ways to go. Hopefully, I can get back and play this week.”

The Pro Bowl snub surprised Gonzalez, who praised the two players chosen ahead of him, San Francisco’s Vernon Davis and Dallas’ Jason Witten.

Despite receiving more fan votes than Davis and Whitten, Gonzalez lacked the support needed from players and coaches who weren’t so impressed with his 80 catches (No. 3 among tight ends) for 837 yards (No. 6).

“Yeah, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” he said. “I thought I played pretty well this year, but if the players and the coaches don’t think I should be over there, it’s their vote, and that’s why we have it that way. I was happy with 10. That was a good run, but it ain’t over yet.”

With running back Michael Turner missing four of the last six games and running the ball just 13 times since a Week 10 loss at Carolina, the Falcons need another reliable offensive weapon for quarterback Matt Ryan to pair with receiver Roddy White.

Turner (ankle) and Ryan (toe) were held out Wednesday, though the quarterback has started and played the last two weeks despite missing practice.

Tampa Bay is coming off consecutive road wins at Seattle and New Orleans after its defense held each opponent scoreless in the second half.

“They’re running to the ball and attacking the line of scrimmage,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. “They’re doing some good things.”

Gonzalez has two personal reasons for hoping he heals quickly: With four catches, he can join Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Isaac Bruce as the only players with 1,000 receptions; Since Kansas City drafted him 13th overall in 1997, Gonzalez has missed just two of the 212 games his team has played, most recently in Week 11 of 2006.

The NFL’s career leader among tight ends in catches, yards receiving and touchdowns is using the Pro Bowl announcement as motivation to heal faster.

“I was a little fired up and especially for my family,” Gonzalez said. “I think they were more disappointed than I was. They’re missing out on that trip. They realize it’s not in Hawaii. They were know it’s in Miami, but they wanted to go to South Beach.”

NOTES: Smith said K Matt Bryant, who’s been away from the team since Monday because of his father’s death, is expected to return today. With Bryant nursing a hamstring injury from last week, the Falcons signed K Steve Hauschka on Tuesday. ... P Michael Koenen was held out Wednesday after missing last week’s second half with a concussion.

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