Falcons-49ers matchup No. 2: Gonzalez vs. Willis

Falcons-49ers matchup No. 2: Tony Gonzalez vs. Patrick Willis

Falcons-49ers matchup No. 2: Gonzalez vs. Willis
December 22, 2013, 5:30 pm
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Tony Gonzalez has been a focal point in the Falcons offense, especially with the loss of Julio Jones. (USATSI)

Editor's note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Falcons matchups to watch Monday, 5:40 p.m., at Candlestick Park.

49ers LB Patrick Willis vs. Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez

Tale of the tape
Willis (52): 6 foot, 242 pounds, seventh season, Mississippi
Gonzalez (88): 6 foot 5, 247 pounds, 17th season, California

This really is the end for Tony Gonzalez, he says.

And the 13-time Pro Bowl tight end will be matched up against Patrick Willis, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, in his next-to-last NFL game.

[RELATED: 49ers heavy favorites vs. Falcons on Monday night]

The Atlanta Falcons have the league’s worst running game, so they’ve turned almost exclusively to quarterback Matt Ryan. With wide receiver Julio Jones out of action since the sixth week of the season, Gonzalez is even more important to the offense.

Gonzalez has 71 receptions for 740 yards and seven touchdowns. He has more career receptions (1,313), receiving yards (15,008) and touchdowns (110) than any other tight end in NFL history.

“He’s a tremendous talent, No. 1,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “And then you combine that with great instincts for the tight end position. And anytime you’ve got great instincts and great talent, it usually equals greatness. And that’s what he’s been throughout his career and will be in the Hall of Fame for.”

Gonzalez, who also played basketball during his college career at Cal, reiterated last week this will be his final season. He announced his retirement last season, but decided to return for another season after the Falcons lost to the 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Atlanta has struggled to a 4-10 record this season.

[RELATED: Matchup No. 3: Holmes vs. Smith]

Willis, who typically has the most responsibility in covering tight ends, is having another strong season for the 49ers. Coach Jim Harbaugh recently endorsed NaVorro Bowman for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but Pro Football Focus ranks Willis as the top inside linebacker in the NFL.

Willis gave up some plays in coverage two weeks ago against Seattle rookie tight end Luke Willson. The opponent’s passer rating when targeting Willis is 105.8, including the 39-yard touchdown pass to Willson, on which a mixup in the secondary left him without his expected help in the middle of the field.

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