Frustrated Falcons vow to beat 0-4 start

Holding call on late drive, lapses on two bombs just more of same for Atlanta

October 04, 1999|By Hunt Archbold | Hunt Archbold,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ATLANTA -- Yesterday's game had produced pretty much the same negatives as the three previous games had for the Atlanta Falcons.

Only this time, despite the injuries, penalties, missed field-goal attempts and turnovers, the defending NFC champions appeared in good shape to claim a victory. But a botched final regulation drive deep into Ravens territory was followed by a major blown defensive assignment in overtime.

The result was another defeat, as the Falcons' 19-13 overtime loss left Atlanta 0-4 and searching for answers.

"This hole we're digging is getting deeper and deeper," safety Eugene Robinson said. "We keep seeping into it. But this team has a lot of character. It's embarrassing and it hurts, but this team won't quit."

For the third straight game, the Falcons had to play quarterback roulette, with starter Chris Chandler sitting out with a hamstring injury. Tony Graziani started in Chandler's place, but gave way to Danny Kanell because of a concussion in the second quarter.

"I remember throwing the ball," Graziani said of the incomplete pass, on which he was leveled by middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "The next thing I remember is the guys standing over me, trying to wake me up."

Yet despite the continued turnover in personnel, three lost fumbles and a blown 10-point lead, the Falcons appeared to be in good shape to end their four-game losing streak dating back to last season's Super Bowl.

After a Ravens punt, the Falcons took over at their 45 with 3: 07 remaining and the game tied 13-13. Six plays later, Atlanta had second-and-five at the Ravens' 26 and was driving to give a struggling Morten Andersen a makeable opportunity at a game-winning field goal.

But tackle Bob Whitfield was called for holding during a 3-yard run by Ken Oxendine, moving the ball back 10 yards to the 36. After two incomplete passes by Kanell, Atlanta coach Dan Reeves opted not to allow Andersen to attempt a 53-yard field goal with a minute left, and instead punted and looked ahead to overtime.

"It's frustrating because we go through a game and not have any holding calls and all of the sudden in a crucial situation, it is called," Reeves said. "It didn't feel right to give them that kind of field position if we missed the field goal. I thought our best chance would be to go into overtime and take our chances in overtime."

Andersen, who holds the NFL record for the most career 50-yard field goals with 35, had missed his first three 1999 attempts and ran the streak to four when he pushed his 33-yard try wide left in the first quarter.

"I'm not going to second-guess why that decision was made," said Anderson, who was good on attempts from 41 and 35 yards in the second quarter. "My job is to perform, and I haven't been doing that consistently."

The Falcons had the ball first in overtime, but went three-and-out, giving the ball to the Ravens at the Baltimore 36. After two plays netted 10 yards, the Ravens' Stoney Case and Justin Armour hooked up for a 54-yard, game-winning touchdown as one of the slowest Ravens receivers was able to get wide-open behind Robinson and cornerback Ronnie Bradford.

The Ravens' other touchdown also came on a long pass play when Patrick Johnson got behind Ray Buchanan for a 52-yarder in the third quarter.

"We've given up some big pass plays this year, and it bit us again," said Robinson, who credited the Ravens' strong running game for helping to set up the two scoring bombs. "If I'm the offensive coordinator on the other side, then I'm going to take a shot [with the deep pass]."

Having doubled their 1998 regular-season loss total in just four games, the Falcons face a steep challenge to salvage a season that began with much promise, but has produced one frustration after another.

"We played hard, but we didn't play very smart," Reeves said. "We need a win so badly."

Pub Date: 10/04/99

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