Watt? Falcons' Neon Deion tones down boasting act Sanders sheds chains, won't incite Redskins

January 03, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

HERNDON, VA — HERNDON, Va. -- Are you ready for the serious side of Deion Sanders?

Yes, there is a serious side to the high-stepping, strutting, rapping Atlanta Falcons cornerback who, with his green boxer ++ shorts with white dollar signs, sets the standard for coach Jerry Glanville's "living on the edge" style.

Sanders has toned down his image somewhat -- wearing business suits on road trips instead of gold chains.

He also is not making outrageous boasts about his team's chances in the playoff game at RFK Stadium tomorrow against the Washington Redskins.

"They're very good, but I don't think any of us expect to go up there and just get it handed to us," he said. "I think we can play with them."

The Falcons missed him as a cornerback and a kick and punt returner when he was sidelined with a thigh bruise on Nov. 10 when they were routed, 56-17, by the Redskins.

"That was one of the hardest days of my life, standing on the sidelines watching your buddies get bombed and there's nothing you can do about it," Sanders told an Atlanta reporter this week. "You can't pull on a cape and be Superman and fly out there and help."

He may not be Superman, but when Sanders is rapping and pointing fingers or taking a helicopter to a baseball game, it's easy to forget how good a football player he is.

"There's not a better cornerback in pro football right now," Glanville has said.

Now that Sanders is back, he and Tim McKyer will see whether the Falcons can make Glanville's gambling defense work against the Redskins. Glanville likes to blitz and leave his cornerbacks one-on-one with the opposing team's receivers.

With Sanders out, quarterback Mark Rypien threw six touchdown passes against the Falcons in their first meeting, five to wide receivers Gary Clark and Art Monk, including receptions of 82 and 61 yards by Clark and a 64-yarder by Monk.

The matchup of Sanders and McKyer vs. Monk and Clark has the makings of a classic: two of the league's best receivers one-on-one against two of the best cornerbacks. Both Clark and Sanders are Pro Bowl players.

Clark followed the lead of the veteran Monk, who rarely talks to the media, and declined comment yesterday, but Sanders said he thinks his return will help McKyer.

"I feel like I'll make a difference for Tim," Sanders said. "They had to move him around a lot the last game and that's never comfortable when you're [used] to playing one side. We'll be able to just line up like normal and we know each other so well, we'll help each other."

Does coach Joe Gibbs think Sanders and McKyer can cover Clark and Monk? He ducks that question.

"I think both those guys are great corners so it's an interesting matchup. It probably depends on what happens on each play," Gibbs said.

Sanders adds another dimension to the game because he's a threat returning both kickoffs and punts. He's averaging 22.2 yards as a kick returner and 8.1 yards as a punt returner.

"If you kick deep, he goes and gets every ball and if you don't, they're going to lateral it to him," said Wayne Sevier, the Redskins' special teams coach.

Sanders is handicapped somewhat as a punt returner because the Falcons don't try to set up blocking lanes for him. Instead, they go all out to block every punt, and succeeded twice in the first game against the Redskins -- the first two of punter Kelly Goodburn's career.

The Redskins prefer the strategy of setting up the blocking for their returner, Brian Mitchell.

But Sevier said of the Falcons' strategy of going for the block, "It's part of their living-on-the-edge atmosphere and it's worked because they're winning."

Goodburn said: "We've got something to prove against them. They made us look bad last time."

Although he doesn't get the blocking, Sanders has an advantage. The punter has to worry about getting the ball off, so he can't think about kicking away from Sanders.

The Redskins then have to stop Sanders from taking one back.

"We played him in his rookie year and we had two guys in absolutely perfect position about two feet apart and he planted and exploded between them before they could even get their arms up," Sevier said. "It was unbelievable."

Gibbs said: "He's a fantastic return guy. There's a couple of them in there that you'd look at and you say, 'That wasn't much,' and you add it up and it's a 21-yard return. That's fast."

Still, it's questionable whether the return of Sanders, quarterback Chris Miller and offensive lineman Mike Kenn, who were also injured for that first meeting, can make up a 39-point deficit.

Does Sanders think they can do it?

"I don't think anybody's 39 points better than us," he said.

NOTES: If the weather is bad tomorrow, it would seem to be an edge for the Redskins because the Falcons figure to have trouble operating their run-and-shoot offense in bad weather. But Gibbs said the weather isn't likely to matter because both teams play on grass outdoors. "The only thing that's going to hurt the game is wind. If it's wind, it's going to hurt both teams," Gibbs said.

The Deion Sanders file

(Regular season)

Kickoff returns

C9No.. . . .. . Yards. . .. . Avg.. . .. . Long. . . . TD

26. . . . . .. 576. . . . . 22.2. .. . . 100t. . . .. 1

Punt returns

D:Ret. . .... . FC. . . .... Yards. . . .. Avg. . Long. TD

21. . . ...... 9.. . .. . . 170. . ..... 8.1. . . 23. . 0

Defensive statistics

?5Tackles. . .. Assists. . ..... Sacks. . . .. .. Int

35. . .. ..... 14. . ......... 1-9. . . .... .6-115

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