Originally created 08/29/98

Falcons upend Bengals



ATLANTA -- Quarterback controversy? Probably not. But 44-year Steve DeBerg showed Friday night that he might be the man to back up Chris Chandler.

DeBerg made a strong bid to make the Atlanta Falcons' roster, playing shockingly well and seemingly enjoying himself immensely in a preseason-ending 17-0 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Warmly received by a Georgia Dome crowd of 26,269, DeBerg led the Falcons to two touchdowns while playing the entire second half. He completed 10 of 14 passes for 129 yards with no sacks, and he threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to rookie Jammi German in the third quarter.

"This has been a great opportunity and a great experience, and I've enjoyed every moment of it," DeBerg said. "If it only lasts for training camp, I have no regrets. But I think I had some success."

Poking a little fun at himself, DeBerg added, "I'm not Steve Young. I'm Steve `old."'

Showing that he may still has the physical skills to extend a career that appeared to end after the 1993 season, DeBerg made several nifty moves to avoid the Bengals' pass rush. He best play may have been a second-and-12 completion to rookie Tim Dwight after he scrambled left and spun out of a tackle by Canute Curtis.

After almost every completion, DeBerg trotted down the field like a high schooler to high-five his receiver.

"What really surprised me was their 44-year-old quarterback," said Bengals cornerback Corey Sawyer. "I just can't believe a 44-year-old guy can throw the ball everywhere on us."

If he makes the roster, DeBerg will become the NFL's oldest player since Oakland Raiders kicker and quarterback George Blanda in the 1970s. But DeBerg may do more than make the team. He demonstrated so much veteran savvy and poise that he may leapfrog second-year man Tony Graziani for the No. 2 job.

Graziani's play in the first and third preseason games was spotty, spawning speculation that coach Dan Reeves would scour the waiver wire for another quarterback this weekend. But based on DeBerg's play Friday night, Reeves may not have to look any farther than the end of his bench.

DeBerg's improvement from his first performance two weeks early against Detroit and Friday night was remarkable.

"I would say it would be unusual if he doesn't make the football team," coach Dan Reeves said. "We've got a lot of decisions to make, but I think our football team has confidence in him. When he goes into the huddle I think our players think he can get the job down, and that's a big part of it."

The Falcons finished the preseason at 2-2 with their best performance, though it was hardly a perfect one.

Their units outplayed the Bengals in a 3-0 first half. But the offense's play was marked by false start penalties against Calvin Collins, Bob Whitfield and Tony Martin. The punt team had consecutive flags thrown against Bob Christian and Keith Brooking, and the defense surrendered runs of 16 and 13 yards to Ki-Jana Carter and 23 to Eric Bieniemy.

Chandler completed 12 of 20 passes for 139 yards, including five passes for 55 yards to Martin. Jamal Anderson had 28 yards rushing on an opening 60-yard drive capped by a 38-yard Andersen field goal.

Defensively, the Falcons came away with their first two turnovers of the preseason. Safety Eugene Robinson, a free-agent signee from Green Bay, recovered a Carter fumble and intercepted a Paul Justin pass in the second quarter.

Robinson's interception came a play in which cornerback Ronnie Bradford made a great recovery on a deep pass intended for Darnay Scott. Bradford dove forward and brushed Scott's arm just as the ball arrived, causing Scott to deflect the ball to Robinson.

Rookie Dwight had a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown called back by a holding penalty on Gary Downs. Dwight also had a 51-yard kickoff return and 24-yard punt return against Pittsburgh last week in his NFL debut.

The Falcons will have to cut seven players this weekend before beginning preparations for next Sunday's season opener at Carolina.