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Saints secondary braced for familiar Falcons nemesis Tony Gonzalez

Saints safety Roman Harper and the rest of the New Orleans defense will have to deal with Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez for at least one more season in 2013 (Photo: Parker Waters).Saints safety Roman Harper and the rest of the New Orleans defense will have to deal with Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez for at least one more season in 2013 (Photo: Parker Waters).

NEW ORLEANS -- While the Atlanta Falcons might be glad to have veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez back for his 17th and perhaps last NFL season, at least two members of the New Orleans Saints secondary wish he would have retired at the end of last year.

In two games against the Saints in 2012, Gonzalez caught 15 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns, part of a Pro Bowl-season that saw him finish with 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns.

"I remember when we played that dude last time, as we were walking off the field, he told me, 'it's been a pleasure playing against you, this might be my last hurrah,' ''' Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins recalled with a smile this week. "So, in my mind, I'm like, 'Yes!' I didn't know he was going to go Brett Favre on us. But it's always a fun match-up.''

Nearby in the Saints locker room, fellow safety Roman Harper chirped in the background: "He's a liar ... He's a liar ... and you can tell him I said that.''

Gonzalez, who leads nearly every meaningful career statistical category for NFL tight ends, gave every indication that last season would be his last. But after a few months of reflection, he reconsidered and signed a two-year, $14 million contract that includes $7 million in guaranteed money ($3.5 million signing bonus and $3.5 million base salary) and assurances that he would be excused during training camp for three weeks of family leave.

The contract also calls for a $3 million roster bonus in 2014 and a $4 million base salary.

Now Gonzalez, 37, has assured everyone that 2013 will be his last season, "100 percent certain,'' he said, up from "95 percent certain'' a year ago.

"(Gonzalez) told me that was his last year,'' Harper said. "But, he's allowed to change his mind. I know he's just trying to win himself a championship. He's the best of all time. Period. It is what it is, his stats don't lie. His play has stood the test of time. This is year 16 for him, or 17 or whatever it is. It's been fun. It's been very challenging. It's been a headache at times but it is what it is, man. He's the best for a reason.''

Why?

"He's more frustrating than the other tight ends because even when you cover him he still catches it,'' Harper said. "It doesn't really matter, he just bodies you out. He just knows how to use his body. It's not like he's out-athleticizing you. That probably happened when he was younger when he was running by guys. But by the time I started playing against him, he wasn't running by guys. He's just so crafty. He knows exactly what to do and how to get open.''

The Saints and Falcons renew their heated rivalry at noon Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

 

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