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By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
(AP) -- Tony Gonzalez is returning to face the Kansas City Chiefs, beginning what figures to be his last season to try to finally win a playoff game.
Matt Ryan and coach Mike Smith have more time but also must be wondering when the Atlanta Falcons will break through.
Gonzalez will play as a visitor at Arrowhead Stadium for the first time Sunday when the Falcons look to begin their recovery from another postseason disappointment as they meet the banged-up Chiefs.
The 12-time Pro Bowler has never played against his former team and will likely get a hero's welcome, back at the home of the franchise with which he holds team records in receptions (916), receiving yards (10,940) and touchdown catches (76).
"It's going to be a little weird being in a different locker room and coming out of that tunnel when we first come in," Gonzalez told the Chiefs' official website. "It's going to be a little weird, but I'm looking forward to it."
Gonzalez was traded to Atlanta before the 2009 season for a 2010 second-round pick that the Chiefs used on defensive back Javier Arenas. Kansas City was in a rebuilding mode, and Gonzalez wanted to play for a contender.
He went 0-3 in the playoffs with Kansas City and now has defeats the last two years with Atlanta. The Falcons fell 24-2 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants in a wild-card game after a 10-6 season in 2011.
Gonzalez has indicated he will likely retire after this year, and still believes the Falcons can get over the hump.
"I realize we have an opportunity to go to the playoffs, win a playoff game, and that's what I want," the future Hall of Famer said. "I've been playing my whole career for a chance to go to the Super Bowl and I feel we have as good a chance as anybody."
Ryan and Smith have been together for a franchise-record four straight winning seasons, but their 0-3 postseason mark has the Falcons still looking for their first playoff win since the 2004 season.
Atlanta is confident it can take the next step in 2012.
"I think this is probably the most talented group we've had up to this point," receiver Roddy White said. "We can all run. I think our team's fast. I think we play fast. I think it can be special."
The Falcons certainly have plenty of talent, with the NFC's leading returning rusher in Michael Turner and top receivers in White and Julio Jones. Ryan threw for a career-high 29 touchdowns last year, including 20 in the final nine regular-season games against four interceptions.
There are new coordinators on both sides of the ball, with Dirk Koetter on offense and Mike Nolan on defense.
Nolan will likely use more schemes with three cornerbacks than with three linebackers. That's because Atlanta added four-time Pro Bowler Asante Samuel to a unit that includes fellow corners Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson.
"The (Falcons) secondary in general is an outstanding secondary, probably one of the best secondaries we'll go up against all year," Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel said.
Cassel was limited to nine games a year ago due to a hand injury as he enters his fourth season with Kansas City, which went 7-9 after winning the AFC West the previous season.
A tumultuous season saw Romeo Crennel take over as coach for Todd Haley for the final three games. The Chiefs won two of them, handing the Packers their lone regular-season defeat in Crennel's debut and helping him earn the permanent job.
Crennel, however, faces a new set of problems with his defense. The unit will be without linebacker Tamba Hali, suspended for the opener for violating the league's policy on substance abuse.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson is bothered by a bad ankle, cornerback Brandon Flowers has a bum heel, safety Kendrick Lewis is dealing with a shoulder injury and backup cornerback Jalil Brown has been trying to recover from a groin strain.
If Flowers and Brown do not play, veteran Jacques Reeves could be called upon to shadow either White or Jones. It's also hard to know what to expect from safety Eric Berry, a Pro Bowler in his 2010 rookie season who is coming back from a torn ACL.
"Other guys have to step up and they have to be relentless," Crennel said. "Like Eric Berry, he's going to be relentless with or without Tamba. I think other guys will have to play the same way."
There could be a greater urgency to get snaps for first-round draft pick Dontari Poe, a defensive tackle the Chiefs hoped to use as a situational pass rusher but now could be starting.
Improvement in a running game that wasn't very productive last season would help keep the injury-plagued defense off the field. The Chiefs led the league with 2,627 rushing yards in 2010 only to fall to 15th with 1,893 yards one year later while finishing with an AFC-low 20 touchdowns.
Jamaal Charles, however, is back after being limited to two games due to a torn ACL while the Chiefs also added former 1,000-yard back Peyton Hillis from Cleveland.
Ryan was a rookie the last time these teams met nearly four years ago. He threw a 70-yard TD pass to White, and Turner gained 104 yards and scored three times in the Falcons' 38-14 victory.
Updated September 5, 2012