SUWANEE, Ga. -- After Monday nights game, Ray Buchanan absorbed all the emotions of the previous four hours at Texas Stadium, then made a brief comment that summed up the hopes of the Atlanta Falcons, current and future:
"We have an emergency."
On Tuesday it got even worse when the fears of the defending NFC champions were realized. Jamal Anderson, the focal point of the team's offense, is lost for the rest of the 2000 season with a torn knee ligament.
"According to what Dr. (Andrew) Bishop told me, it was a complete tear," coach Dan Reeves said of Anderson's right anterior cruciate ligament. "It's just one of those things. Ligaments just aren't that strong. If the muscles around it don't hold it up, you are going to have some of those types of injuries."
Anderson was running off the left side against the Dallas Cowboys early in the first quarter when his right knee buckled on the artificial turf. It was Anderson's third carry of the night, and it came without contact. Coupled with the loss of starting quarterback Chris Chandler (strained right hamstring), it set the stage for a 24-7 victory by the Cowboys that dropped Atlanta to 0-2.
Surgery is expected on the All-Pro running back in about two weeks.
"I'll be all right," Anderson said. "This team will be all right. This team is bigger than one player. I put us in a tough situation, but this team will be all right."
Reeves said the injury was a lot like Eugene Robinson's arrest for soliciting a police officer for oral sex the night before Super Bowl XXXIII -- it defied explanation.
"That is like trying to figure out the Eugene Robinson thing," Reeves said. "Everybody's got their opinion and so forth, but you don't know why (it happened). It happens a lot. It seems like guys who hold out come back and have injuries. That's the hard part."
Anderson, who ran for 1,846 yards in 1998, missed a week of mandatory mini-camp drills in the summer and the first three weeks of training camp in a contract dispute. After rushing for only 50 yards in the loss to Minnesota, Anderson admitted he's yet to find his "rhythm" in the team's offense.
The loss of Anderson means Byron Hanspard, who rushed for 76 yards on 19 carries in relief Monday night, now is the starting tailback. Hanspard suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament a year ago and missed the entire season.
While the loss of Anderson came at the worst possible time for the Falcons. Not only is Atlanta winless in its first two games, the team is reeling from a rash of serious injuries. Chandler strained a hamstring in a 17-14 loss to Minnesota a week earlier. That put the team's fortunes in the hands of backups Tony Graziani and Danny Kanell against the Cowboys. The results didn't provide any reason of hope.
Graziani completed 7 of 16 passes for 90 yards, but he also threw an interception and lost a fumble. Kanell was 9 of 22 for 172 yards and a 45-yard touchdown to Tim Dwight, but he also threw two interceptions, including one that was returned 87 yards by defensive end Greg Ellis for a touchdown.
Chandler's status was upgraded from doubtful to questionable for this Sunday's road trip to St. Louis. That means there's a 50 percent chance he will play.
But even with Chandler, the Falcons have other problems. In two games, the team has lost seven turnovers. Also, Atlanta has been penalized 13 times for 153 yards.
"We've got guys going down," said tight end O.J. Santiago. "We've got to get tough because there's a lot of good teams around the league. It's part of the game. Guys go down in the league every day and they play through it. We've got to play through it. It's a long season.
"Byron's a capable backup. That shouldn't worry us one bit. We should be able to go out there and play. We have to make the plays when we get the opportunity. We're not taking care of business. Nobody's panicking around here right now. Everybody's got to take a good look at themselves and figure out what they've got to do to get better. Each position has to get better and do whatever it takes.
"We're 0-2. Let that sink in. We're 0-2, and we're in a hole. We have opportunities to make plays, and we're not doing it."
Robinson said it's far too early to give up, especially since the team still has 14 regular season game sto play.
"We need to look at it and be critical," Robinson said. "We can't panic. Did we get blown out? No. Did we give a good effort? No. The 24-7 score was a misnomer. The offense couldn't get anything going so the defense knew it had to step it up a little bit. We don't need to panic. We need to get healthy.
"We've got a lot of confidence in Byron Hanspard to run the ball and in our offensive line to create some holes. This team has too much fight in it to give up. This team will get better. That's definite."
The Falcons were off Tuesday, but will return to practice today. The short week of practice doesn't help Reeves' staff as it prepares a new game plan centered toward Hanspard, a third-year player from Texas Tech.
"What you'll do is end up, like we did (in Monday's) ball game, is run plays that Byron likes better, and they are a little different that what Jamal likes," Reeves said. "We will go with plays Byron likes more and try to work Ken Oxendine in there, too. It's one of those deals, and you hate it, but you can't dwell on it. You can't do anything about it. We've got to move forward and try to get the job done."
Until then, the Atlanta Falcons are a team that remains in an "emergency" situation.
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