Originally created 09/15/99

Falcons focus on Cowboys



SUWANEE, Ga. -- By Monday, Jamal Anderson still was seething. A night after his Atlanta Falcons lost their season opener against Minnesota, the All-Pro running back still had trouble describing the 17-14 loss.

"I had a serious case of road rage all the way home," Anderson said after he rushed 16 times for 50 yards in the rematch of last year's NFC Championship. "I was frustrated. I still am. You want to beat a team like that. I'm so mad I can't explain it. We're not accustomed to losing."

Anger will be replaced with attention to detail today when the team gets back to work in preparation for Monday's game at Dallas. A team that appeared on cruise control for much of 1998 suddenly finds itself in an emotional quandary.

"This is how we will find out about the character of this ball club," coach Dan Reeves said. "Last year we lost at San Francisco, but we bounced right back. Then we lost to the New York Jets, and we bounced right back.

"We've got a tough assignment ahead of us. We've got our work cut out for us. You'll figure out a lot about this football team by the way we react to Dallas."

The Cowboys are coming off a 41-35 win at Washington. Dallas trailed by 21 points in the second half, but quarterback Troy Aikman rallied his team to 27 unanswered points to win in overtime.

At the same time, the Falcons missed to field goals -- one of 35 yards, the other from 39 -- in a 3-point loss.

"We never got into our (offensive) rhythm," Anderson said. "The defense did a great job. We turned the ball over three times in the first half to give the Vikings great field position. We shut them out in the second half.

"That's why that loss stuck with me longer than normal. Now we've got to buckle down, play better, and pray Chris (Chandler) can play."

Chandler, the team's quarterback, strained his right hamstring on the team's second-to-last play on offense. His status for the "Monday Night Football" game is listed as doubtful, meaning his chances of playing are 25 percent or less, but the team held hope the extra day of work may allow him to beat the odds.

"It feels a lot better now," Chandler said. "We still need to wait and see."

Chandler won't practice until at least Thursday. Backup Tony Graziani will be the No. 1 quarterback in today's workouts -- and in Monday's game if Chandler can't play.

Since his coming to the Falcons in 1997, Atlanta is 19-5 in games when Chandler finishes. When either he doesn't play or is knocked out early, the team is 4-9.

Even he sees the importance of not starting the season with two losses.

"When you lose your opener, it puts on a lot of pressure to win your second game," Chandler said. "You never want to be two games in the hole."

Anderson said the team has rebounded from losses in the past, and this year shouldn't be any different.

"We don't want to be in the hole," Anderson said. "I think that's in everyone's mind. I think you'll see the intensity level pick up this week. We wanted to win every game. Obviously, we're not going to go 16-0 now, and we certainly can't afford to be 0-2. It's going to be important for us to win at Dallas. Everybody comes at you a little harder when you're the defending NFC champion, so we have to meet the challenge."

The Falcons will be closer to full strength with cornerback Michael Booker returning to practice today. The former first-round pick has been out since Aug. 27 with a strained thigh.



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