FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Rookie Doug Johnson was given the Atlanta Falcons' starting quarterback on Wednesday as coach Dan Reeves began looking ahead to next season.
Chris Chandler, the No. 1 quarterback since Reeves took charge of the Falcons in 1997, was dropped to No. 3 behind Johnson and Danny Kanell.
Reeves said the change had nothing to do with Chandler's critique of the coaching staff after Sunday's 41-14 loss at Oakland. The primary concern was Chandler's health, he said.
"Chris has been banged up and beat up. This is a chance to get him rest. For evaluation (of Johnson), I also think it's the best way for us to win."
After the Raiders loss, Chandler said the coaches should share the blame with players for the pitiful performance of the Falcons' offense this season.
"It's the players' responsibility to play better, and also I think it goes beyond that," Chandler said Sunday. "...I think maybe we can do better as a coaching staff also. It goes from top to bottom."
Reeves indicated Johnson's promotion is permanent, meaning the former Florida standout will enter 2001 as the starter.
"When I make a change like this, I don't plan for it being for the interim," Reeves said. "I've only seen Doug in a game at Denver and at Oakland. I'd like to see him in a little friendlier environment."
Johnson, who passed Kanell on the depth chart Nov. 15, will make his first NFL start when the Falcons (3-10) play host to the Seattle Seahawks (4-8) Sunday. He appeared in a 42-14 loss at Denver Sept. 10 and replaced Chandler in the second half of the Oakland game.
"It's a great opportunity for me to go out and play," said Johnson, who has completed 14-of -24 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown. "Hopefully, the things I've learned these past two weeks will come into play."
The injury-prone Chandler, who hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in five weeks, has absorbed 36 of his team's NFL-high 49 sacks. Atlanta ranks next-to-last in total offense with 249.4 yards per game.
Chandler said Wednesday he was disappointed with Reeves' decision, but "I understand his reasoning."
He said he and Reeves hold no resentment against each other.
"I just do what's asked of me," said Chandler, 35. "I don't read anything personal into it. I believe personal relationships should stay out of it."
Chandler, who has completed 168 of 292 passes for 1,992 yards, eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions, owns a 71.9 quarterback rating, his worst mark as a starter since 1988, his rookie year with Indianapolis.
He declined to speculate on whether his career with the Falcons will end soon, adding that he has been preoccupied with the health of his father-in-law, former San Francisco quarterback John Brodie, who is recovering from a stroke.
Chandler, a Pro Bowl selection in his first two years with Atlanta, was in the second year of a five-year, $27 million contract when the Falcons - seeking to clear room under the NFL salary cap - restructured his contract in 1999. A sixth year was added, giving him a base salary of $6.5 million in 2003.
But the contract is not guaranteed past this season.