Originally created 08/19/00

Falcons offense sputters in loss



ATLANTA -- Jamal Anderson looked marginally better Friday night than in his first exhibition game, but in the Georgia Dome air conditioning the rest of the Falcons' offense appeared as smog-choked as the rest of Atlanta.

Anderson carried six times for 17 yards for a Falcon offense that sputtered all night in a 28-14 exhibition loss to the San Diego Chargers Friday night.

After a year of peaks and valleys on the recovery trail, it didn't take much for Anderson to improve on his first game, a five-carry, zero-net-yard performance last week against the Cincinnati Bengals.

His numbers against the Chargers aren't overwhelming; they are a far cry from the 4' yards per carry he averaged in 1998.

But for now, he'll take them, especially after a brief bout of doldrums earlier this week.

"I came out on Monday, and I was really stiff and sore," he said. "But I gotta go. We play 13 games on turf, so I've got to be ready."

The biggest remaining question for the Falcons offense is backup quarterback Tony Graziani, who finally might have played himself out of Atlanta. Like starter Chris Chandler, Graziani fumbled to set up a score for San Diego, which turned five Atlanta turnovers into 22 points, and was picked off three times in a dismal second-half effort. He caught a bad break when a pass bounced off the shoulder pads of intended receiver Gary Downs and into the hands of the Chargers' Jason Perry.

"Anybody who's played quarterback in this league has had nights like that," Chandler said. "I've had some, where nothing's going right. He wasn't getting any help, and he was doing everything right. Then you start trying to force it."

Graziani, who played the entire second half, threw another interception with 6:41 left in the game, this one in the end zone after he led the Falcons to the Chargers' 1-yard line.

He earned a measure of redemption with a 55-yard touchdown pass to Eugene Baker in the final minute, and finished with 169 yards after completing 13-of-29 passes.

"It's difficult to evaluate things after a game like this," said Falcons head coach Dan Reeves, who said some cuts will be made today. "A couple of running backs fumbled, and I thought he (Graziani) made some good throws that were dropped. Then he made a poor decision on the interception."

While the Chargers' Ryan Leaf had the hot hand in the first half, Chandler struggled. He was sacked three times and fumbled twice, both turnovers setting up San Diego touchdowns.

Chandler did hook up with Tim Dwight on a 62-yard touchdown strike, but otherwise was harassed into misfires and the two fumbles.

"You don't want to have this feeling still around when the season starts," Chandler said. "You want to be a lot sharper than we were tonight."

Dwight's long score and the play of Brian Finneran were the highlights for the Falcons, who lost for the first time in exhibition play. Finneran, the surprise of the preseason for the Birds, solidified his chances to make the team with three catches for 38 yards.

And Anderson, who put up perhaps his the most encouraging 17-yard effort of his career, thanks to some urging from an unlikely source.

"(Falcons kicker) Morten Andersen was talking to me earlier this week about how, when I'm dominating, it's like I'm running downhill, running over people," Anderson said. "I just tried to focus on that."

Feeling no heat from an outmanned Falcons defensive front, Leaf picked apart the Falcons defense with short- and medium-range passes, completing his first nine attempts and racking up 167 passing yards.

San Diego backup Moses Moreno suffered a concussion on a scramble. He was hit by Atlanta's Johndale Carty, who was flagged for a personal foul on the play, though replays indicated it was a clean hit.

"I think it was just an impressive job by the offensive line -- the receivers and everybody being on the same page," Leaf said. "I didn't get touched hardly at all."

The same could not be said for the Atlanta front. The Falcons quarterbacks were pressured all night, and the offense never got into a rhythm.

The Falcons close their preseason Thursday at Jacksonville. Their regular-season opener is at San Francisco on Sept. 3.