Originally created 11/28/98

Chandler doubtful against Rams

SUWANEE, Ga. -- If the Atlanta Falcons are going to clinch a playoff berth against the St. Louis Rams Sunday, they'll probably have to do it without quarterback Chris Chandler.

Chandler missed a third straight day of practice Friday because of a sprained ankle, and coach Dan Reeves all but ruled him out as the starter.

"I would say he's about as close to being out as you can be," Reeves said. "But we'll probably carry him as a (No. 3 emergency reserve) third just in case. I can't see any way (he would start). I've seen miracles before, but that's what it would take."

Reeves wouldn't say whether second-year man Tony Graziani or 44-year-old Steve DeBerg would get the nod, but Graziani got more work in practice.

"`Graz' took most of the snaps during the week with the first-team offense, so that kind of tells you what's going to happen if Chris can't go," DeBerg said. "Myself, I've actually has a good a good week of preparation because I really didn't know which way Dan was going to go. I'll just do what I've been doing and be ready to play."

At 9-2, the Falcons will clinch a playoff spot and retain first place in the NFC West if they defeat the 3-8 Rams. They'll also reach double digits in the win column for only the third time in franchise history, and the first since 1991.

But winning without Chandler is something the Falcons haven't been able to do yet under Reeves. Over the past two seasons, the team is 0-3 in games Chandler has missed entirely and 2-7 in games he has missed or not finished.

In the one start Chandler has missed this year, the Falcons were throttled 28-3 by the New York Jets.

"We've got to go in there with the idea that we can win regardless who plays quarterback," Reeves said. "If the mind set is different than that, chances of winning are slim."

Graziani has one career start, a 21-12 loss at Carolina last year in which he was benched at halftime after completing just 4 of 18 passes for 24 yards with two interceptions.

He went into training camp this year as the No. 2 quarterback, but lost the backup job to DeBerg after he had a shockingly good game in the preseason finale against Cincinnati.

But over the last few months, Graziani has gained confidence and a better grasp of the offense.

"Just the experience of being around Chris and learning from him has really helped," Reeves said. "I think he's also gotten stronger after staying here during the off-season and lifting weight, and the velocity on his throws and strength of his arm have gotten better. He's always been an accurate quarterback with a quick release, but I think now he knows more about what do to with the ball, and the players have more confidence hin him.

"They can see he has the athletic ability, and he's a good prospect."

Graziani said he hasn't been told he's going to start, but he is preparing himself to play.

"I feel more comfortable with the offense now than I did a year ago," Graziani said. "I've been through another preseason, and I've run the plays a lot more. The experience will help."

In other developments, rookie return man Tim Dwight has suffered a setback in his recovery from a knee sprain and his status for Sunday is uncertain. Dwight was supposed to have his knee drained Friday afternoon because of some fluid buildup in the bursa sac.

Cornerback Ronnie Bradford has reclaimed the starting right cornerback spot after missing three games with a sprained knee and backing up Michael Booker last week.

As for the Rams, quarterback Tony Banks says he'll start despite missing a midweek practice with an ankle sprain.


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