They both wear No. 88, but Jermichael Finley hopes the similarities don’t stop there.
Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, a 15-year veteran and sure-fire Hall of Famer, has enjoyed the type of career to which Finley aspires.
Playing for both the Kansas City Chiefs and now the Falcons, Gonzalez has been a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses for a long time. A former basketball player, Gonzalez has always been too fast for linebackers and too big and athletic for defensive backs.
That’s the same description that has been attached to Finley since he came on the scene in the latter half of the 2009 season, his second in the NFL. Finley’s rise was halted briefly by a season-ending knee injury last October, but he showed he’s back with a three-touchdown outing in Chicago two weeks ago.
Finley was asked this week if he watched Gonzalez growing up – he was 10 years old when Gonzalez broke into the NFL in 1997 – and he admitted he really didn’t. He did say, though, that he actually watches him more now as he tries to develop his own game.
“He’s not the fastest guy on the field, but like I always say, he’s the guy that’s in the film room watching the coverages,” Finley said. “That’s why he knows where the holes are at and knows where to get after the defense.”
Those thoughts reflect the additional attention to detail Finley may need to employ from here on out, not because he’s getting old, but because defenses will devise game plans to limit his impact.
Denver did that last week, playing a safety behind the cornerback anytime Finley was split out wide in a receiver position. The Broncos, having seen how Finley burned the Bears the previous game, held Finley to just three catches for 28 yards. That didn’t slow Green Bay’s offense any, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 408 yards and four touchdowns, but it did frustrate Finley, judging from his postgame comments.
During the week, Finley dialed it back a bit, expressing an understanding that, at times, defenses will scheme to take him out of the game. Other times, they’ll game-plan specifically for Greg Jennings, and then it might be his turn.
“I’m OK with it,” Finley said. “The player that I am, I’m going to get double-teamed maybe every week from now on but, at the same time, if we keep getting those goose eggs at the end – 4-0, 5-0, 6-0 – I don’t really care. As long as we get back to that dance, I’m fine.”
For his own sake, it could be worth Finley’s while to watch Gonzalez on Sunday night at the Georgia Dome, which will mark the first time both No. 88s will be playing in the same game.
Gonzalez was a primary target in the passing game for much of his 12 seasons in Kansas City. Since coming to Atlanta in 2009, he’s had receiver Roddy White catching his share of passes and now rookie Julio Jones has been added to the Falcons’ mix, too.
All Gonzalez has done is catch four touchdown passes so far this season, including two impressive one-handed grabs. He has 21 catches for 229 yards to go along with those four scores, similar to Finley’s numbers this year (18-234-3).
“The first thing that stands out with Tony is his ability to play in the red zone,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of Gonzalez, whose first two seasons with the Chiefs were when McCarthy was an offensive assistant there. “When you get a chance to break him down (on film), he’s very technical in what he’s trying to accomplish.”
That “technical” approach may be the next step for Finley. Even after his three-TD game in Chicago, Rodgers said Finley still has some mental mistakes to clean up.
Finley didn’t disagree with his quarterback, and the more complex the coverages are that the defenses throw at him, the more the finer points will matter in Finley’s game.
“It’s not going to be easy at all,” Finley said. “That’s why I have to go in and watch a little more film, get in the playbook a little bit more, try to make something happen, try to create something. I’ve got to go out and get it.”
Injury update – Not yet for Zombo: Outside linebacker Frank Zombo (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis all week but was not cleared to play and has been ruled out for Sunday’s game.
McCarthy said he’s hopeful Zombo will get clearance next week.
“Dr. McCarthy thinks he’s ready to go,” joked the head coach. “We’ll see how Dr. (Pat) McKenzie views it. He looked good this week.”
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) also has been ruled out for the second straight game. He’ll be replaced again by second-year man Marshall Newhouse. McCarthy reiterated on Friday that there’s a difference between how Bulaga feels about his injury and how Dr. McKenzie does, but that’s not unusual in these situations.
“He’s champing at the bit to get out there,” McCarthy said of Bulaga. “Bryan wants to play, he feels he’s ready to go, and Pat is concerned. Until that comes together, Bryan will not be on the field. I think Bryan definitely has a chance next week.”
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews did not practice all week but is listed as probable on the injury report for the game. McCarthy said a new treatment regimen for Matthews’ quadriceps injury dictates he not practice, and that could be the case for a couple of weeks.
Matthews is one of nine players on the injury report listed as probable and expected to play. Outside linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring) did not practice on Friday and is questionable, while tight end Andrew Quarless (knee) did not practice all week and is doubtful. Additional coverage - Oct. 7