Originally created 10/31/00

Defense leads Atlanta to 'W' column



ATLANTA -- A five-game losing streak is over. Give all the credit to the Atlanta Falcons' defense.

In a throwback to the days of the "Gritz Blitz," the Falcons stymied the Carolina Panthers in all ways imaginable.

The defense kept an opponent out of the end zone for the first time since 1997. Carolina quarterback Steve Beuerlein was sacked four times, threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. The Panthers managed only 30 yards running.

"We just made up our mind that we were coming to get 'em," said defensive tackle Ed Jasper, who had a huge game Sunday as Atlanta rallied for a 13-12 victory.

There's no need for the Falcons (3-6) to begin making playoff reservations. But at least they can feel good about themselves for a week.

"The first half of the season is over with," Jasper said. "We want to start with a clean slate. We wiped everything off our records and we started fresh."

All good things for Atlanta started up front. Jasper, finally healthy after an injury-plagued season, had three tackles and a sack and caused a fumble.

"I use my quickness," he said. "I couldn't make my moves when my ankle was hurt. Really, this is the best I've felt since I hurt it in ... preseason. Every week I've hurt it over and over and over."

Brady Smith, a free-agent signee during the offseason, finally picked up his first sack with the Falcons.

"I hope this is just a confidence builder for this team," Smith said. "You know it's got to be hard to lose five in a row. Finally coming out and getting a win, we've just got to build on this."

The pressure up front made things easier for the secondary.

Ray Buchanan had two interceptions, including the play that set up Morten Andersen's game-winning field goal from 31 yards with 2:53 remaining. The other cornerback, Ashley Ambrose, also picked off a pass.

"We've been mixing the coverage up a lot," Buchanan said. "But we played a lot of bump-and-run coverage. We have the ability to do it, me and Ashley."

The Falcons were bolstered by the return of linebackers Jeff Kelly, who missed three games with a knee injury, and Henri Crockett, sidelined the previous week with a sprained ankle.

While Kelly struggled in pass coverage, he led the team with seven tackles.

"You have to give our young linebackers a lot of credit," coach Dan Reeves said. "They did a really good job of pursuing the football whenever they had a running opportunity."

The news is not so good for another young linebacker, Keith Brooking. The former Georgia Tech standout said he planned to fly to San Francisco to see another specialist about his sprained left foot. Also, he might travel to Houston later in the week to seek a third opinion.

Brooking, who has not played since a loss at Philadelphia on Oct. 1, already has been treated by a specialist in Atlanta. Surgery was recommended to repair torn ligaments and a separation in a joint on top of his foot.

"Eight weeks in a cast ... I hate to even say that," Brooking said. "I'm not going to say that until I'm out there on the table."

The offense also is in need of an overhaul. Even though Jamal Anderson ran for 95 yards and the line gave Chris Chandler plenty of time to throw, the Falcons managed only one touchdown.

Tight end Reggie Kelly had a particularly dismal day. He fumbled just short of the end zone in the waning seconds of the first half, then wiped out a touchdown run in the final period when he was called for holding.

Andersen made a pair of field goals, but he missed two others.

"Offensively, we've just got to keep plugging away," Reeves said. "We've got to find a way to put some more points on the board. You aren't going to win many games scoring 13 points."