Gonzalez, a 13-time Pro Bowl tight end with the Atlanta Falcons, says “it was laziness on my part,” “embarrassing” and “inexcusable” when Saints linebacker Junior Galette sacked Matt Ryan for a 10-yard loss late in the second quarter of last week’s loss at New Orleans.
With the Falcons (0-1) preparing to host St. Louis (1-0) on Sunday, Gonzalez knows that protection will be at a premium. The Rams’ pass rush is led by ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, who combined for 22 sacks last year.
Quinn had three sacks in last week’s win over Arizona.
“All of us have to keep Matt upright and keep that pocket nice and clean so he can throw that ball down the field,” Gonzalez said on Thursday. “I thought we played well at times, but we’ve just got to be more consistent in holding up. That’s the biggest improvement we’re looking for this week.”
Gonzalez’s mistake hurt Atlanta’s chance for a field goal that would’ve tied the game and was one of three sacks and six hits on Ryan.
Other star playmakers had tough moments, too. Julio Jones lost a fumble that led to New Orleans’ first touchdown three plays later. Steven Jackson dropped a touchdown at the goal line on the final possession.
But Gonzalez insists that missing three weeks of training camp and two preseason games didn’t affect his performance, which included a 7-yard touchdown catch.
The tight end said that’s ridiculous.
The Falcons allowed Gonzalez to take time off last month to spend time with his family and watch the first football practices of his 12-year-old son, Nikko, in Southern California.
“He let me have it,” Gonzalez said. “He said, ‘You’re lucky that you scored the touchdown. Otherwise that would’ve been a bad game for you.’ It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. It won’t happen again hopefully.”
Gonzalez was a third-year tight end with the Kansas City Chiefs when Gonzalez last allowed a sack.
He went on to earn his first Pro Bowl invitation that season, but Gonzalez is still irritated about getting beaten by Peter Boulware for a 6-yard sack in Kansas City’s 1999 victory at Baltimore.
Thirteen years later, it happened again against Galette, a fourth-year linebacker with just two starts in 33 career games.
“It’s not like the guy pushed me into the quarterback,” Gonzalez said. “It’s one of those things that was a miscalculation on my part, which is inexcusable, and it happened the same way last time.”
Gonzalez prides himself on every part of his game from running crisp routes to making tough catches in traffic and using proper techniques on blocks.
“I was thinking, ‘He’s way out there (on the edge), and there’s no way he can get to the quarterback,” Gonzalez said. “Matt’s going to throw it by then, and I just had a slow, lazy kick instead of kicking it back there and getting aggressive with it like I should have, like I’ve always done.”
Lamar Holmes, a second-year right tackle, struggled all afternoon in his first career start. It’s possible that Jeremy Trueblood, an eighth-year veteran who signed after getting cut by Washington last month, could get some snaps against St. Louis.
Atlanta could have issues at left tackle, too, if Sam Baker doesn’t return from a knee injury that’s kept him out of practice this week.
“We determine who needs help, who doesn’t need help prior to the game, and we try to make those adjustments,” coach Mike Smith said. “That’s what coaching all about — making those adjustments.
Gonzalez believes pass protection is the offense’s biggest concern in facing the Rams.
“Obviously we’ve got a couple of injuries right now, but we’ll be ready this Sunday,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. We have to be because we have no choice. We’re a good football team, and we can make it happen. We’ve done it before. We’ll do it again.”
NOTES: Baker, WR Roddy White (ankle) and DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee) did not participate in practice. ... WR Julio Jones (knee), CB Asante Samuel (thigh) and LB Sean Weatherspoon (knee) were limited.