Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been out at a number of events in Atlanta, and the community has been very receptive to me. I’m very glad to be a part of it.
I’ve noticed that the people of this city are very charitable and giving — not only around the holiday season, but year round. Many members of the community are out there trying to make things better, and ensure that people are thought of and the issues at hand are taken care of.
I’ve had the chance to spend some time with some notable business leaders in the community, and have noticed that they’re very willing to share knowledge and network.
I’ve also been able to go out and meet with kids for a few events to make a difference in the lives of our younger generation.
One of the events I did was in conjunction with NFL Play 60, which encourages kids to be active for at least 60 minutes a day. I was able to hop on the bus with Freddie Falcon and some of the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders, and surprise the students at Shiloh Point Elementary School, who have been outstanding in their efforts.
I talked to them at an assembly, and encouraged them to continue to play at least 60 minutes a day, to eat healthy and most importantly, become better people by listening and learning at school.
I also teamed with Verizon Wireless to visit the Atlanta Mission shelter, where I got the chance to read to the children. We read The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and I talked to them not only about what the story of the Grinch ultimately means, but about Christmas and how it’s not always about gifts, but about cherishing the company of others. After that, we had an hour of arts and crafts, and I loved that portion of it because I got to encourage the children to be creative.
It was a great time. I really enjoyed it, and it was one of the more fun experiences I’ve had so far in Atlanta. It means a lot to me to be able to do these things, and provide a positive influence on young children. I remember growing up wanting to be a NFL player, and because I had that that dream come true and I’m living it, I’m able to put myself in a position where I never forget where I came from.
It’s important to never forget how interaction and a smile can brighten up someone’s day. I also think it’s important to continue to uplift the younger generation, because one day they’re going to be the leaders. We want them to know to do things that are morally and ethically right. So I think it’s important to always spread truth and knowledge, and remember to always lend a helping hand.
In the season of giving, we should also always remember that a kind word goes a long way, too. I encourage everyone to look out for one another, and continue to cheer each other on. Let’s get better in 2014.
RUNNING WITH PURPOSE
Last week’s game against the Washington Redskins was crazy. It was a real back and forth battle, and the ball was coming out everywhere. I just kept reminding myself to have great ball security, great leverage on the ball and to run behind my shoulder pads. When turnovers happen, they tend to happen back-to-back or in bunches, and it can get the best of players. It becomes more of a head issue than actually something going on technically. So I just wanted to make sure that I was really good with the football because there were so many turnovers.
I got into the end zone twice, which was a great feeling. We really set the tone for the game with our first drive. On my first touchdown run, we had two double teams working up to the linebackers, and I knew that if they lined up in a certain way against the formation — which we had anticipated all week in practice — I’d be one-on-one with a defensive back. Sure enough, we got lined up at the line of scrimmage, and they aligned with what I’d studied all week on film. So I’d already anticipated that it was going to be me vs. that DB for the touchdown, and I just wanted to run with authority behind my pads. I was determined that I wasn’t going to let him stop me from scoring.
To break through like that felt really good. It was early in the game still, and I wanted to set the tempo and get the crowd behind us. There were some Redskins fans there in the dome, so we wanted to silence them. But it was more of a statement: This is the type of game it’s going to be, and this is the way we want to run. That is the attitude we have to play with week-in and week-out.
A big part of running the football is attitude. There are only so many schemes you’re going to come up with to run the football, and there are always going to be 11 guys on the field for each unit. So it all comes down to that attitude. I think we’re starting to get there in our running game, and that’s what I attribute it to. Guys are understanding one another, communication is happening, and more importantly, guys are blocking well. Our backs are running with an attitude.
My second touchdown came a short time after they stopped me on fourth down. Our defense came up big, and got a turnover right after they stopped us. To have our offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter go back right back to another run play for me was meaningful. It shows that he knows the attitude that I run with, he knows the style of play that I play with and I think I’ve assured them that if given enough opportunities, I will come through for us.
It’s all about desire. When you’re given as many opportunities within the one or two-yard line as we’ve had this year, where it comes down to those man-on-man, mano y mano situations, you have to come through.
If we want to continue to take strides as an offense and continue to run the ball, we have to impose our will on teams. Those are the type of situations we have to come out on top in. The last few weeks, we’ve been able to do that. We can still grow in some areas, and we can still get better right there at the goal line. But I think we definitely have put enough on film now to say that we have the determination to score touchdowns in the run game.
At this time of year, typically players wear down, the toll of the season takes its course on guys and I like to say that as the leaves change, the game changes. So I’ve always put myself in that frame of mind that when my number is called I’m going to be ready.
Particularly later on in the year is when I need to be a difference maker — because you never know when that opportunity is going to come and I’d rather be ready for it than surprised by it. In the later months of the season, you tend to lean more heavily on the run game and stout defenses, and if you have those two components, typically you’re a winning team getting ready for the playoffs.
TONY’S SWAN SONG
I’ve been able to play with a few Hall-of-Famers and future Hall-of-Famers in my career now, and there’s one thing that sticks out about all of them: Not only are they smart football players, but their work-ethic and passion for the game is unmatched. Tony Gonzalez fits that mold.
It’s very inspiring to me to see a guy who is arguably the best ever to do it at his position, 17 years in, still working hard and trying to perfect his craft.
Tony takes really good care of himself and he has a very good understanding of the game. It’s not always the biggest guy or the fastest guy who is going to come out on top. It’s the guy that understands, not only his own ability, but what the offense or the team is trying to accomplish and how he fits in there. I think Tony is a prime example of that.
SOMETHING TO PROVE
We have a great opportunity over these last two weeks to show that our record does not reflect the team that we are. We definitely have two very good opponents ahead of us. Both of those teams are known for their physicality, and both have great defenses, so we will definitely have our hands full. But as I see it, it’s an opportunity to prove that we’re a very good team and a very good offense.
Going into San Francisco this week, we all know it’s a Monday night game, and it’s the last game at Candlestick Park —their historic home stadium. So I’m expecting it to be an emotional game for the San Francisco 49ers and their fans. With that said, there’s no need to get pumped up for it. All the energy you need is in the billing.
What I will emphasize to my teammates in all of our offensive meetings is that this is a very tough defense. The 49ers have one of — if not the best — front seven in football. They play with an attitude and a chip on their shoulder, and they’re a very aggressive defense. We need to go in there expecting that, and not be surprised by it.
I’m definitely looking forward to meeting up with Patrick Willis again. I’ve said it many times over the years: I have a great deal of respect for Patrick. He’s one of those players I consider a benchmark to let me know where I am as a player. We don’t get to test each other twice a year anymore, but for old time’s sake, there’s no better way to close out Candlestick than with two formidable guys going head-to-head with one another.
It means a lot to me to be playing in the last NFL game at Candlestick. Not only is it the place where I scored my first NFL touchdown, but it was the home of a number of players who I grew up watching and idolizing. I had the 49ers uniform as a kid with the plastic helmet and the jersey.
I loved watching the likes of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Ricky Watters, and dozens of others I could name from throughout the years who I wanted to be like. They’re a storied franchise, and it’s a historic arena. I see it as a great opportunity to showcase the fact that 10 years into my career, I’m still able to play at a high level, and I’m able to do it back where it all started for me when I got my foot in the door in the National Football League.