Originally created 01/26/99

'Big Play Ray' no slouch with the mouth, either



MIAMI -- Big Play Ray? No doubt about it.

Big Mouth Ray? That fits, too.

Whether it's shutting down Randy Moss or guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory for the Atlanta Falcons, Ray Buchanan puts a bull's-eye on his chest every day and stands willingly in front of the firing squad.

He is the consummate NFL cornerback, a star student in Deion 101.

"The only person I fear is God," Buchanan preaches to the assembled congregation. "Everybody else is a pea in the pod."

Like Deion Sanders, Buchanan combines superior athletic skills with a steadfast arrogance that he's the best. When he looks across the line and sees someone like Moss or Jerry Rice, not a bit of trepidation creeps into Buchanan's psyche.

"If I can go out there and cut you with a butter knife and find out you bleed, then I know you're human," he said.

Buchanan, a Pro Bowler who ranked second in the NFC with seven interceptions, stirred up a tempest last week when he guaranteed a victory Sunday over the Denver Broncos, a la Joe Namath 30 years ago.

While it was clear he was goaded into making the prediction by Cris Collinsworth during an appearance on HBO's "Inside the NFL," Buchanan refuses to distance himself from his inflammatory words.

"When I did say it, it was out of fun," he said Monday. "But once you get in the boxing ring, you're not going to back away from a fight. That's the situation I'm in now."

The Super Bowl-savvy Broncos were stunned that someone would actually go on record with such a bold prediction, no matter what the circumstances.

"Are you crazy?" defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said. "If you don't have confidence going out there, you're going to get yourself killed. But to speak your mind and say you guarantee a win, that's a little deep."

But Buchanan spoke with equal confidence before the NFC championship game against Minnesota, viewing the Vikings' high-scoring offense with downright disdain.

The Falcons started out with Buchanan matched one-on-one against Cris Carter, while the other cornerback, Michael Booker, covered Moss with help from safety Eugene Robinson.

That didn't work as the Vikings scored on their four possessions, including a touchdown pass to Moss.

"I remember vividly in the game when I came up to him and said, `Man, that Randy Moss cat is fast,"' Booker recalled. "Ray says, `He ain't that fast! I can take him!' I couldn't believe it. He really wanted to play Randy Moss man-to-man all over that field."

Buchanan got his wish, working more and more against Moss. The Vikings' rookie managed only one catch for 4 yards after halftime.

"He always goes out there with a sense of arrogance that he can't be beat," Booker said in admiration. "And if he does get beat, he's going too come back and make a play right after that."

That's just what the Falcons had in mind two years ago when they lured Buchanan away from the Indianapolis Colts with a four-year, $13 million contract.

Coach Dan Reeves recognized right away that the secondary was the team's most pressing need. The Falcons surrendered an NFL record for passing yards in 1995 and had been looking for a decent coverage cornerback ever since Sanders left following the '93 season.

"He can cover anybody in this league one-on-one,," defensive coordinator Rich Brooks said.

The presence of Buchanan allows the Falcons to be more flexible in their defensive schemes. They can bring strong safety William White closer to the line to help against the run. They can call more blitzes without fear of Buchanan getting beat downfield. They can allow Robinson to float to Booker's side of the field, helping out the second-year cornerback who's still perfecting his coverage skills.

Buchanan compensates for his lack of height -- he's only 5-foot-9 -- by always seeming to be in the right position.

"His balance and body control is outstanding," Brooks said. "He has great explosion out of the break. Once he sees what a receiver is going to do, he can plant and drive on it as quick as anybody in the league."

And, on yeah, he's got the requisite bravado to play the position.

"You can't play corner in this league with a lack of confidence," Brooks said. "If you do, you're going to get your brains beat out because you'll be worrying, `Oh, I hope they don't throw to my side.'

"Ray is sitting back there going, `Throw it to my side. I'm going to get a pick and I'm going to score."'