FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — For Michael Palmer, breakfast consists of oatmeal with blueberries and cinnamon. Why not a higher-calorie meal for a strapping, energy-burning NFL tight end?
Because Tony does it.
Off to the side at each Atlanta Falcons practice, Palmer, an understudy whose chief duty is blocking, catches about a hundred passes. Why?
Because Tony does it.
In the team’s fitness area, Palmer devotes increased time to stretching because . . . Tony does it.
For 16 seasons, Tony Gonzalez, 36, has done it better than most tight ends. But amid the glittering career statistics that would make a sabermetrician swoon — 1,242 receptions for 14,268 yards and 103 touchdowns — one protrudes like a rotten apple in a bushel full of Red Delicious: zero.
Gonzalez spent 12 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and went 0-3 in playoff games, their extended postseason doldrums portending a limited future. So he negotiated a trade to the Falcons — the franchise with the worst NFL postseason history (six victories since its inception in 1966).
Yet with Atlanta, Gonzalez saw promise at the administrative and coaching levels and in quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Roddy White, players he speaks so highly of he could preside over their fan clubs.
With the Falcons for four years, Gonzalez has celebrated 45 regular-season victories, more than any other team during that time except for Green Bay and New England. Yet in the playoffs, he is 0-2 with them.
With retirement looming — Gonzalez lists the odds of his playing next year at 19 to 1 — his desire for his first playoff victory falls well short of obsession. But, asked if a loss Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks would leave a hole in his résumé, he responded tersely.
‘‘That’s a tough question,’’ he said. ‘‘Ask me after the game.’’
Gonzalez has been around long enough to recognize that players are judged significantly on their postseason fortunes.
‘‘Obviously, in the playoffs, it steps up more because that is really kind of where your legacy comes in,’’ he said. ‘‘What you do in the playoffs is what a majority of people remember.’’
To Falcons coach Mike Smith, one of Gonzalez’s many fans, there should be no win-for-Gonzalez sentiment in the locker room. Team-driven motivation should suffice.
‘‘Everybody needs to put individual thoughts behind them,’’ Smith said.
That might be more challenging for the Falcons than containing Russell Wilson in the pocket.
Palmer is among Gonzalez’s teammates who have told him how much they want to win for him. ‘‘It’s no secret,’’ Palmer said.
The figure most associated with Gonzalez lately is 95, as in the percentage that he invokes on the likelihood of his retirement.
The number appears to reflect reality. Gonzalez says his longtime companion and three children have similar leanings. Yet he intends to mull it over deep into the offseason, which partly explains why he has no intention of mimicking linebacker Ray Lewis’s moves in Baltimore last weekend during his final home game.
‘‘You don’t want to see me dance,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s not a pretty thing.’’
Gonzalez evidently has not disclosed his intentions to his coaches or teammates. He and tight ends coach Chris Scelfo, in fact, agreed in training camp that the topic would stay off-limits.
If he does retire, Gonzalez will become part of a select group of players who quit before their production began tailing off. His reception and touchdown totals this season surpassed those of his previous seasons in Atlanta, even after, by Scelfo’s estimate, Gonzalez confronted bracket coverage in six or seven games.
‘‘Frankly, I think he’s gotten better,’’ said Scelfo, who has been Gonzalez’s position coach from the outset in Atlanta.
Gonzalez has offset any physical regression with a strict diet and a tweaked training regimen that features workouts with a kettlebell.
Scelfo has reduced Gonzalez’s load at practice, telling him: ‘‘We don’t need you on Wednesday or Thursday. We need you Sunday.’’
Broad shouldered, Gonzalez is a master at applying to football the craft of blocking out a defender that he honed as a ferocious rebounder for the University of California basketball team.
An innate sense of impending contact enables Gonzalez to protect himself, minimizing injuries.
‘‘I feel fine,’’ he said. ‘‘Honestly, probably a little bit healthier than I did the last few years.’’
Still, the probability of retirement sounded closer to certain with this comment: ‘‘There is no tomorrow. There is no saying, ‘We’ll get them next year.’ It’s about going out there and trying to finish on the right note.’’
If Gonzalez heads into retirement, Palmer’s playing time figures to grow next season should the Falcons bring him back. Nonetheless, the increased workload would be bittersweet.
‘‘As long as he wants to play,’’ Palmer said, ‘‘I’m all for it.’’