ST. LOUIS -- Chris Chandler hurt too much to practice with the Atlanta Falcons last Wednesday. He threw passes Thursday, then seemed back at full speed by Friday.
With that, Dan Reeves said the veteran quarterback will be able to start against the World Champion St. Louis Rams this afternoon at 1 inside the Trans World Dome.
That's supposed to be good news for a team that hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in two games -- a stretch of 129 minutes, 36 minutes, especially since they're going against a team that's off to a 5-0 start and well on its way to shattering every significant offensive record in the National Football League.
If it's good news, then why aren't some Falcons celebrating?
Backup quarterback Danny Kanell gave the team something it's been missing -- a spark -- during last week's game against the New York Giants. Although he suffered the same losing fate as Chandler, his excitement level was infectious in the huddle.
"I can't say enough about the way Danny Kanell played," veteran wide receiver Terance Mathis said. "He was fearless; he was awesome. If the other 10 guys on offense can get excited like he did and have fun like he did, we can turn it around.
"I have to take a different passion toward this game. You better start having fun, or it's going to be a long season. You've got to go out there, and whatever's called, run it. We need to work our butt off to execute it. It starts with me. I've been playing long enough, and I have a voice."
Kanell came in the game after Chandler suffered an injury to his ribs in the second quarter. The same rib injury kept him off the practice field until Thursday and stirred some interest in Kanell's chances to lead the team this afternoon.
"I like Danny," said wide receiver Shawn Jefferson. "He kind of gave us a spark last week. Maybe that's what we need."
Chandler certainly can't be blamed for the Falcons' problems on offense. He's completed 89 of 161 passes for 1,061 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions to earn a quarterback rating of 73.5. Kanell, who started the season with a broken finger, has hit 17 of 40 passes for 180 yards with one interception and no touchdowns to earn a quarterback rating of 45.8.
No matter who's calling the plays this afternoon, he will face an avalanche of blitzes. Teams have exploited Atlanta's out-of-sync offensive line with blitzing linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks.
"Until we hit some big plays, teams are going to keep bringing it," Kanell said.
Mathis said he didn't realize how much the offense had lost its spark until Kanell played last week. That's why he'd like to see the fifth-year player get another chance.
"We have confidence in Danny," Mathis said. "We need to have fun. We need to let it loose, let it go. What needs to happen is somebody needs to make a play, an exciting play, and get in the end zone and see what happens."
As a backup, Kanell said part of his job is to bring a different kind of excitement to the huddle.
"The more and more I'm playing, the more comfortable I feel," Kanell said. "Sometimes when you come in there, you have to give the team a spark. We've got to learn how to win games. We have to learn how to attack and take the game from them."
St. Louis is on such a roll that coach Mike Martz gave them a seven-day vacation during their bye week last weekend. The Rams, who average 43.4 points per game, come into today's game well rested and with the confidence of knowing they beat Atlanta 41-20 last Sept. 24 -- the last time the Falcons scored a touchdown on offense.
Chandler, who has missed at least one game to injury in each of his previous 12 seasons in the National Football League, will get the first chance to re-kindle the Falcons' lost spark. Kanell is certain to be a quick option if Atlanta's problems continue on offense.
"I don't have any magical cures," Reeves said. "I just know we have to keep working."
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