Originally created 09/06/00

Falcons prepare for 49ers



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- By the time Shawn Jefferson came to work Monday morning, the wide receiver was finished talking about Atlanta's 36-28 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

He was more concerned with finding faults in his seven-reception, 148-yard performance, including a 48-yard touchdown, than he was talking about it. He wanted to watch game films on the Denver Broncos -- the Falcons' opponent next Sunday -- to study the nuances of their secondary.

"(San Francisco) is over with," Jefferson said. "It's time to move on. That's in the past. It's time to worry about Denver, not the 49ers."

At the same time, Jefferson and quarterback Chris Chandler said the San Francisco victory could serve a purpose throughout the rest of the season. Jefferson established the deep threat the team lacked in a dreadful 5-11 campaign a year ago, and the win could be a sign of better things to come.

"There's no question, the feeling of being able to run the ball, control the clock some, and then make big plays throwing the football has come back," Chandler said. "The big plays he can make, that's what we didn't have last year. Shawn will probably be the first to tell you there's some things he could have done better. Those are things he's going to pick up, and then you'll see some 200-yard games. He's so fast and explosive, he's going to make it hard for teams to keep him in single coverage."

Jefferson, who caught only three passes during five preseason games, clearly was more concerned about a couple of misses against the 49ers than the catches. He and Chandler had trouble getting in sync early in the game, but they finally established a rapport midway in the second quarter to give the Falcons the edge they needed to win their second season-opener in the past five years.

"Chris got better as the game went along," said coach Dan Reeves. "He started out and had a couple overthrows early in the ballgame, but he continued to set up, take his cues and throw the ball. I thought he threw the ball extremely well.

"Shawn Jefferson was exceptional. He is a guy that, in practice, works harder than anybody else. It is nice to see a guy get some results from all of the hard practice, and I think he overcame some things. He had a couple plays where he didn't connect, but he didn't let it get him down. He just kept working and coming back and making plays."

Atlanta travels to Denver on Sunday for a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIII. A lot has changed since the Broncos beat the Falcons 34-19 at the end of the 1998 season. Both team's star running backs -- Terrell Davis at Denver, Jamal Anderson at Atlanta -- have had major reconstructive surgery for torn anterior cruciate knee ligaments. Also, Tony Martin, the speedy wide receiver that kick-started the Falcons offense in 1998, was waived a month after the Super Bowl after he was indicted for laundering drug money.

Davis' comeback was hampered by a sprained ankle in Denver's 41-36 loss at St. Louis on Monday; Anderson's comeback featured a respectable 77-yard rushing effort against San Francisco, and Jefferson has assumed Martin's role.

Now Chandler and Jefferson, along with possession receiver Terance Mathis, face a Broncos defense that gave up 441 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Rams.

"We acquired some pretty good players," Chandler said of Atlanta's decision to sign free agents Jefferson and cornerback Ashley Ambrose -- who had a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown against the 49ers -- in the off-season. "Shawn has that ability to get down field and stretch the defense. That's what he brings to the table."

But it's far from perfect.

"There are some things I need to get ironed out," Jefferson said. "I made some mistakes. We played hard at times and we played well when we had to. Things will get better. Chris, that's something you dream about when you're a receiver. In all the passing camps, in all of training camp, we didn't connect on one of those deep balls. It's one of those things that once you gel, it's there. It's something where I know he's going to be; he knows where I'm going to be. This is just the first step.

"As far as filling a need, they give me a need, too. They give me a guy who can throw the ball. It works both ways. Now that we've trimmed down the roster (from training camp), Chris and I can take our time to get on the same page. We can take individual time out after practice. Things are going to get better."

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@mindspring.com