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Gonzalez continuing to amaze as Atlanta tight end nears 1,000 yards

  • Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) falls to the turf as New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster (23) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

    Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) falls to the turf as New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster (23) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

  • Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) celebrates with wide receiver Julio Jones (11) after Jones scored a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

    Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) celebrates with wide receiver Julio Jones (11) after Jones scored a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

  • Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) makes a catch in the end zone for a touchdown as New York Giants defensive back Will Hill (31) and strong safety Stevie Brown (27) defend during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

    Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) makes a catch in the end zone for a touchdown as New York Giants defensive back Will Hill (31) and strong safety Stevie Brown (27) defend during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

  • Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) falls to the turf as New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster (23) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

    Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) falls to the turf as New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster (23) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

  • Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) falls to the turf as New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster (23) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)
  • Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) celebrates with wide receiver Julio Jones (11) after Jones scored a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)
  • Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) makes a catch in the end zone for a touchdown as New York Giants defensive back Will Hill (31) and strong safety Stevie Brown (27) defend during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)
  • Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) falls to the turf as New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster (23) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

The Atlanta Falcons are in position to have three players reach 1,000 yards receiving for only the second time in franchise history.

Heading into Week 16, Roddy White led the team with 1,156 yards for his sixth straight season with more than 1,000 yards. Second-year receiver Julio Jones, who led the Falcons with nine touchdown catches, had 1,071 yards. He finished only 41 yards shy of 1,000 as a rookie in 2011.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez, who topped Atlanta with 87 catches, had 880 yards receiving; Gonzalez hasn’t reached 1,000 yards since 2008, his final year with Kansas City.

The Falcons had three receivers reach 1,000 yards in coach June Jones’s run-and-shoot offense in 1995: Bert Emanuel, Eric Metcalf and Terance Mathis.

The 36-year-old Gonzalez continues to say he’s leaning toward retiring after the season.

“We’re talking about probably one of the best players I’ve ever seen in my life, definitely at that position,” said Lions defensive coordinator and former Kansas City coach Gunther Cunningham. “I talked to Charlie Sanders at length and we were talking about Tony Gonzalez. What he had said, ‘Gun, people don’t understand this guy is in the top five.’ He looked at me like I didn’t know what he meant. I said, ‘Top five of all-time receivers, not just tight ends.’

“Jim (Schwartz) asked me early in the week in a staff meeting what kind of guy is Tony, does he work hard?” Cunningham added of the Lions head coach. “Tony Gonzalez shows up half-hour before practice starts and he runs and practices and catches the ball for that half-hour every single day. He’s made himself what he is. He’s not a great speed guy, but I’ve seen 4.5 guys try to knock him down and he still catches the ball. He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever seen in my life in this game.”

No holiday cards

No merry holiday wishes being exchanged between Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll and his 49ers counterpart, Jim Harbaugh, this week.

Whether they can keep the peace tonight, time will tell. These two are longtime coaching rivals, starting in the college ranks of the Pac-10 and now on to the NFL.

Harbaugh and his 49ers (10-3-1) have won all three head-to-head matchups with Carroll since Harbaugh was hired away from Stanford in January 2011. San Francisco plays at Seattle (9-5) tonight.

“I don’t remember getting any cards from him at the holidays,” Harbaugh offered Wednesday.

When word reached Carroll in the Pacific Northwest, he playfully went along with the good-natured fun.

“I heard that he didn’t get one from us yet. I want to go back and check my list,” Carroll said. “If Jim’s not sending a card, that’s okay. I understand. We’ll try to get one in the mail soon.”

Don’t count on it. This one most certainly will get lost in the mail.

It was Carroll who in 2009 met Harbaugh at midfield postgame with a “What’s your deal?” after Harbaugh’s Stanford team ran up the score in a 55-21 rout at Southern California, even attempting a late 2-point conversion with the game out of reach.

In Harbaugh’s first season at Stanford in 2007, the Cardinal traveled to Los Angeles as 41-point underdogs only to stun the second-ranked Trojans, 24-23, and end their 35-game home winning streak.

Sharing the center

The Bengals have been trying an unconventional approach at their center position, dividing time between veteran Kyle Cook and rookie Trevor Robinson. So far, it’s tough to say how it’s worked.

Cook hurt his right ankle in the final preseason game and needed surgery. He went on injured reserve but was designated with a chance to return — a new NFL rule.

He came back two games ago and has split time with Robinson, who won the job while he was gone. Each was in for 31 plays during a 20-19 loss to Dallas, and Robinson had a 42-40 advantage in a 34-13 win over Philadelphia. The coaching staff has indicated the time-sharing arrangement will continue.

“They are both effective,” offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. “They both have their positives and negatives and I think they both deserve to play.”

One telling statistic: Cincinnati has given up 11 sacks in those two games, raising questions whether it would be better to pick one center and go with him. Cook bristled at a suggestion that bringing him back to share the spot has gotten things out of sync.

“I don’t buy that,” the sixth-year veteran said. “Are you serious? Am I the new guy in town or something? I just come off the street? You don’t think I’ve played with these guys before?

“The protection calls are the same. You go look at it and there are similar breakdowns no matter who is in there. We just have to eliminate them no matter what it is.”

Doom and gloom

Denver Broncos pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller have each forced six fumbles, tying Dennis Smith’s club record set in 1989.

Dumervil has six strip-sacks and Miller four.

“That’s something I’ve always put an emphasis on,” said Dumervil, who set an NCAA record with 10 forced fumbles as a senior at Louisville in 2005. “Whenever you set sacks, put an emphasis on getting the ball out. That just changes games. I’m sure Von’s been doing it since college, too.”

Miller had 10 forced fumbles at Texas A&M, where he led the nation with 17 sacks as a junior.

“I’m not a big stats guy. I’m a big W and L guy,” Miller said.

The 10 strip-sacks by Miller and Dumervil are a big reason behind the surging Broncos’ nine-game winning streak.

“I’m definitely going for the ball,” said Miller, whose 16 sacks are one shy of Dumervil’s team record set in 2009. “But it’s a split-second decision. If you see the ball, go for the ball. If you don’t, you don’t, because you don’t want to miss the sack. If I don’t see the ball, then I’m just going to get him to the ground.”

And quite often this season, the ball’s ended up on the ground, too.

But Dumervil and Miller aren’t satisfied.

“If you’re a guy who is accustomed to getting sacks, now the next step is what else do I have to do to make that sack better? And obviously it’s a forced fumble,” Dumervil said. “Now, from there, if you can force a fumble and recover it, that’s a hat trick.”

They’re still searching for that first hat track this season.

Turnover focus

If any of the 49ers defenders need reminding or some added motivation about how much forcing turnovers means to San Francisco’s success, all they need do is take a look at linebacker NaVorro Bowman’s left wrist.

A black rubber bracelet reads: “To It (equals) See It (equals) Get It.”

“We’ve got to get to it, we’ve got to see it, we’ve got to get it,” Bowman explained.

And he has more of the same to hand out – once earned, that is.

Cornerback Carlos Rogers got his wristband this week. He ended a two-game stretch by the NFC West-leading Niners (10-3-1) without an interception when he picked off a pass by Tom Brady and returned it 53 yards to the Patriots 5.

“Yeah, he got one,” Bowman said.

Perrish Cox wants one, too. Has anybody else done enough?

“I’ll let you know,” Bowman said.

The 49ers will get another chance against Seattle tonight, trying to hold down a Seahawks team that has scored 108 points in its last two games.

San Francisco’s stingy defense already deems Thursday practices as “Takeaway Thursday,” when forcing turnovers is the top priority – and they are counted, too.

“We try to pride ourselves on defense with going after turnovers,” Bowman said. “If you do that, you give your team a better chance to win.”

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