SAN FRANCISCO - Nearly 20 minutes after spending another Sunday afternoon playing practice dummy at 3Com Park, someone asked Chris Chandler what happened on the game-turning interception he threw in the third quarter.
"The guy caught it and scored," the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback said.
Chandler didn't care whether his voice sounded deadpan or his eyes held a trace of disdain. The Falcons, 16-6 losers to the San Francisco 49ers, were fresh off their eighth defeat in their last nine games.
Winless at the once-named Candlestick Park since 1991 and owners of a 2-16 record here since 1980, Atlanta players and coaches were left to describe another 60 minutes of frustration.
"It's going to continue to grow, especially when the playoffs are damn shot out the door and we're not getting no better out there on the football field, you know, as a team," cornerback Ray Buchanan said. "That's really frustrating. You don't want to be sitting back pointing fingers. If I had the answers I would've been fixing 'em a long time ago, and I'm sure the coaches would, too.
"We've just got to find a way to stick together and play the season out."
This was a game that included Chandler's throwing a pass at tight end Reggie Kelly's back on third-and-goal at 3 early in the second quarter, a miscue that led to Morten Andersen's 21-yard field goal and a 3-3 tie.
Following Chandler's interception in the third quarter, the Falcons (3-9) moved from their 14-yard line to San Francisco's 32, thanks to three 49er penalties covering 25 yards. Chandler, though, absorbed a 6-yard sack by Bryant Young, and Atlanta had to settle for Andersen's 51-yard field goal that made it 13-6.
More blunders soon followed. With San Francisco (4-8) standing on its 10-yard line late in the third, defensive end Brady Smith gave the 49ers breathing room, and got himself ejected, for hitting Matt Willig in the head.
Jeff Garcia and J.J. Stokes quickly connected for a 27-yard gain, followed by an 8-yard completion to Jerry Rice and an 11-yarder to Tai Streets before San Francisco scored an apparent touchdown.
The Falcons successfully challenged the call, which ended with offensive tackle Phil Ostrowski falling on a fumble in the end zone, but soon watched Wade Richey's 26-yard field goal end the scoring three plays later.
"Obviously, it was an ugly win," Garcia said. "Not getting into the end zone is disappointing for us offensively."
Atlanta's locker room was bathing in disappointment. It was hard to find anyone excited about the spending the next seven days in the Bay Area. In between practices at Stanford University and Thanksgiving dinner, the Falcons will brace for an impending date with the Raiders (9-2) at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.
Jamal Anderson, who finished with 76 yards rushing and only 12 in the second half, was unsure whether a players-only meeting lay in store.
Anderson was more concerned about his missing helmet, which was stolen from his locker prior to kickoff.
"They had to like build me another helmet," Anderson said. "I'm in esteemed company, though. The last helmet they stole was (John) Elway's, so I guess I don't feel so bad."
That was about as lighthearted as anyone could get.
"We had some chances to get some better field position and whenever we got good field position we didn't execute," coach Dan Reeves said. "There was pressure all day, and we didn't throw the ball very well."
Chandler's interception was the back-breaker. Coming just three plays after cornerback Elijah Williams forced Tai Streets to fumble, the pick was the defining moment of Chandler's 16-for-33, 154-yard performance.
Williams stripped the ball from Streets after the 49ers receiver caught a pass from Jeff Garcia and broke off a 15-yard gain. Gerald McBurrows' recovery gave Atlanta a first down at San Francisco 25-yard line.
Anderson ran for a 1-yard gain, and Chandler followed with an incompletion. Rolling right on third down, Chandler appeared to be looking to dump a short pass to Anderson. Unfortunately, he threw the ball right at cornerback Jason Webster, who ran for a 70-yard touchdown.
"We're way off where we need to be on offense right now," Chandler said.
Chandler was hardly protected by his line. Sacked four times just one week after sitting out last week's loss at Detroit with a concussion, Chandler was pressured all day as center Todd McClure and right guard Travis Claridge were completely overpowered by Brentson Buckner and Bryant Young.
"It was physical," McClure said. "We had some breakdowns in there. We've just got to keep fighting. It's probably one of the worst games I've played. No beating around the bush. I didn't play very well."