There is no disputing whom the tough guy is in Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen's household.

That title belongs to his 15-month-old son, T.J., the heart-and-soul motivation fueling his father's career-best, 73-reception season for a team-high 816 yards and six touchdowns.

Olsen's youngest son's heart has an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta. T.J. has undergone two open-heart surgeries to repair a rare condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome. His father says he draws inspiration from his son, driving Greg Olsen as he has now played in 110 consecutive games, the second-longest streak among active NFL tight ends.

"Without a doubt T.J.'s toughest in our family,'' Olsen told USA TODAY Sports on Friday. "T.J. got off to a tough start, had his struggles. Then, since his second operation in June, he's really flourished.''

On Sunday, the Panthers meet the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC divisional-round showdown. T.J. enjoys the games, Olsen said, even if he is not yet old enough to comprehend what his dad will be doing in his first playoff game since a 21-14, 2010 NFC Championship game loss to the Green Bay Packers as a member of the Chicago Bears.

But it won't be long. "My older son Tate is 2 ½ and he's all about it,'' Olsen said.

"T.J. actually has been able to come to a few games this year. And he just loves the atmosphere. I don't think he quite processes it yet. But he will one day.''