Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) celebrates his touchdown catch with his teammates including Parkview grad Michael Palmer (81) against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome.
ATLANTA — In the mayhem that followed Matt Bryant's go-ahead field goal with eight seconds left on Sunday, Michael Palmer was right in the middle of the action.
The Parkview grad, as he does on all Atlanta Falcon field goals and extra points, was on the end of the line blocking for a kick that gave his team a 30-28 win and a berth in the NFC Championship Game. Palmer was one of the first to celebrate with Bryant after one of the most exciting Falcons victories ever, but he quickly maneuvered his way through to chaos to the Atlanta bench.
There sat 16-year veteran Tony Gonzalez, a future Hall of Famer who was seconds away from winning his first playoff game. Atlanta's starting tight end has been Palmer's mentor the past three seasons, and the two shared a huge hug.
"I just told (Gonzalez) there's nobody that deserves it more," Palmer said of their conversation after Bryant's kick. "I couldn't be happier for him. He's not just one of the greatest tight ends ever, he's one of the greatest players ever. Tony's done a lot in his career obviously and he had one heck of a game today too. For him to get that win, he deserves it.
"I'm very blessed. I've gotten to play behind the greatest tight end to ever play for three years. He's taught me a ton. Not just on the field, but off the field, how to be a professional athlete, how to take care of your body. I can't say enough good things about him and how happy I am for him today."
The celebration was all pretty surreal for the 24-year-old Palmer.
Growing up a Falcons fan, he remembers watching on TV at a friend's house when the 1998 Falcons beat Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game. It ended in similar fashion on Morten Andersen's game-winning field goal.
Fast forward to Sunday and Palmer was part of the same kind of joy, but he was on the Georgia Dome field instead of his friend's living room.
"It's humbling. It's still sinking in," Palmer said. "I always think about the 1998 season, growing up as a Falcons fan. And now I'm part of a playoff win. It means a ton. I can't really put it into words. That being said, we've still got a ways to go. We've got two more wins to pick up. We're happy but we're not satisfied."
Massaquoi gets heavy work
Atlanta defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi came into Sunday's game with two tackles, both against Carolina, this season.
The rookie from Central Gwinnett, made one more against Seattle and logged his most significant time all season in the Falcons' biggest game to date. A regular on special teams for the last half of the season, he played heavily in the second half at defensive end when star John Abraham tweaked his nagging ankle injury.
"When your number's called, you have to rise up to the occasion," Massaquoi said. "(Abraham) went out today. He's still not back 100 percent. He's close, but they sat him out today. My number was called and I was ready. All week long I've been taking reps at my position. I came out here today and they called my number, so I went to play."
Massaquoi, a fifth-round draft choice out of Troy, was inactive for the first half of the season because of Atlanta's depth at defensive end. But the Falcons waived disappointing free-agent acquisition Ray Edwards in November, and Massaqoui's playing time has steadily increased.
He hopes that continues next Sunday in the NFC title game vs. San Francisco. At least he knows what to expect from a playoff game.
"It's such a loud atmosphere," Massaquoi said. "For me, it's just a confidence boost going into the next playoff game. Knowing if (Abraham) needs a breather, I'll be the first guy to step up."
Mouth comes to the South
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman made a couple of nice pass breakups on deep balls early in Sunday's game, giving him ample opportunity to do a little trash talking to Falcons players.
Atlanta expected to get plenty of jawing from Sherman, one of the most vocal players in the NFL. The Falcons also gave a little back to Sherman, particularly on Roddy White's 47-yard TD catch from Matt Ryan.
White beat Sherman on the play, then immediately ran to the goal line for a face-to-face meeting with him.
"He's a talker," White said of that encounter. "He's a bit of a talker, so I just asked him to talk to me for a little while. He didn't have too much to say after that play, so he kind of walked to the sidelines."