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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tight ends could have big impact on Bucs-Falcons game

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 11:46 PM
TAMPA -

Even with Hall of Fame genes flowing through his bloodlines, Kellen Winslow didn't hesitate.

"He's the best ever, man,'' Winslow said of Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez. "He's got the numbers, a future Hall of Famer, of course.''

When reminded that his father, Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow Sr., was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995, Winslow reiterated the point.

"Gonzalez is the best – the best ever,'' he said.

Heading into the NFC South matchup against the Falcons, theTampa Bay Buccaneers are well aware of the impact No. 88 brings on fall Sundays.

"I like how he has mastered the game,'' Tampa Bay second-year wide receiver Mike Williams said of Gonzalez, 35, who owns almost all of the significant career NFL records for tight ends. "The man knows how to get open and he can still catch it. We might have to go old versus old and put (36-year-old cornerback) Ronde Barber on him.''

Gonzalez leads the Falcons with 12 catches through two games and is coming off a two-touchdown effort against the Eagles, giving him 90 career touchdown receptions.

With 22 more catches, Gonzalez will pass Marvin Harrison for No. 2 behind Jerry Rice on the NFL's all-time list with 1,103 receptions.

"Five years after Tony's done, he's going to be up in Canton,'' Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. "I don't think there's any doubt about that. When I had to try to game plan against him, it caused a lot of angst because of the way he creates matchup issues.''

When Gonzalez visited Raymond James Stadium with Kansas City in 2004, he caught nine passes for 123 yards and a touchdown in a 34-31 loss as the Bucs tried an array of defenders against him.

While Gonzalez continues on a certain Hall of Fame career, Winslow has been a productive player for the Bucs since they traded for him in 2009.

Productive, but not a game-changer.

Winslow averaged 71 catches and five touchdowns in his first two seasons with Tampa Bay and was targeted eight times in each of the two games this year.

The Bucs have struggled to establish Winslow as a consistent threat in the red zone. From the midpoint of the 2009 season until midway through last year, Winslow went 16 consecutive games without scoring a touchdown.

"I've just got to make my plays,'' Winslow said Thursday. "I dropped a pass last week, wide open. That can't happen. I've got to make my plays when they come. I've just got to do my job and it'll come … the stats will come.''

Like Gonzalez, Winslow has served as an effective mentor.

"Kellen has helped me a lot,'' said Williams. "He's like a big brother to me. Since my first day here, he came into the huddle and said, 'You're our guy now.' I hadn't even done anything yet, but he has always been there for me.

"It's a great matchup this week. We've got Tony G. coming to town and we've got a pretty good tight end of our own.''

Winslow and Gonzalez have "very similar skill sets,'' Smith said, labeling Winslow one of the league's elite tight ends.

For 15 years, Gonzalez has represented the classic dilemma for NFL defensive coordinators. At 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, Gonzalez is too big and strong for defensive backs and too quick for linebackers to cover.

"Having Tony here has helped me tremendously,'' said Falcons Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White, who led the league with 115 catches last year. "Anytime you get a guy like that who catches everything and can open up the middle of the field, he demands double coverage. It's so much easier to get one-on-one matchups outside.''

That's the kind of respect Winslow still craves.

"Kellen's unique,'' Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "He's one of those guys who feels like if he has the ball in his hands, his team has a chance to win. We like to get the ball in his hands as much as we can.''


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