Originally created 09/24/98

Falcons anticipate upset



SUWANEE, Ga. -- Given their history of rarely backing up bold words with bold deeds, the 2-0 Atlanta Falcons are going way out on a limb in saying they can upset the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers Sunday at 3Com Park.

They don't seem to care.

"We're a different football team," cornerback Ray Buchanan said Wednesday. "Anybody who sleeps on us, they've got another thing coming."

Added defensive end Chuck Smith, "We're confident we're prepared to go out there and win."

Even coach Dan Reeves, normally reserved in his comments about an upcoming game, expressed a surprising degree of confidence for the NFC West battle (4:15 p.m., Fox-54).

"If they play as well as they're capable of playing, and we play as well as we're capable of playing, I'll take our chances," he said.

The Falcons have lost six in a row at San Francisco by an average score of 43-16. Last year's result was 34-7, one of only two lopsided defeats in Reeves' tenure.

On the other hand, the Falcons are a better team than they've been through most of the '90s, and they're improved on defense over last year.

Although they have yet to beat an opponent with a winning record under Reeves, they have won eight of their last 10 games.

Winning at 3Com Park, or even playing well, would validate the progress the team appears to have made. After all, the margin of defeat the last four years at San Francisco has been 27 points, 22, 31 and 36.

"I don't worry about that junk," Smith said. "I know Jessie (Tuggle) ain't worried about it. I mean, heck, we play football the same way whether we win or lose.

"But you look around this room. A lot of these guys don't know nothing about what's happened before. They're (free agents) from Green Bay, Jacksonville, Denver, places like that. They read stuff in the paper, and they're like, `Wow, you guys must have been pretty sorry in the past."'

The Falcons' biggest challenge will be to slow a 49ers offense that has averaged 40.5 points and 530 yards in its first two games -- a 36-30 overtime win over the New York Jets and a 45-10 drubbing of the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football.

The 49ers lead the NFL in rushing, passing and total offense, and former Georgia star Garrison Hearst of Lincolnton, Ga., ranks second in rushing yards despite playing one less game than the other top backs.

"They're just an awesome offensive football team," Reeves said. "We have to help them with our offense and trying to keep the time of possession in our favor. We want to keep Steve Young, Garrison Hearst, J.J. Stokes, Terrell Owens, all of those guys, off the field."

What's more, the Falcons will have to find a way to move the ball with a struggling offensive line against a very good defensive front. Tailback Jamal Anderson has rushed for 162 yards in two games, but only 37 yards have come in the first half.

"We've got to make no turnovers, convert on third down, hold onto the ball and score some points," quarterback Chris Chandler said.