ATLANTA - Ray Buchanan was like everyone else inside the Georgia Dome on Sunday afternoon. It was too hard not to marvel over the Falcons' new "two-headed monster" on offense.
The defensive back stood on the sidelines and watched with the same excited anticipation as the 47,804 paying customers, sometimes skipping defensive huddles at the bench.
Chris Chandler and Michael Vick, Atlanta's quarterbacks of the past, present and future, made it hard not to notice their completely diverse, yet totally successful contributions in the Falcons' 24-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Chandler, the 14-year veteran, threw for two touchdowns while Vick, the 21-year-old rookie, ran for another touchdown. Together, they provided the kind of brains and brawn that are certain to keep defensive coordinators working double-duty in the weeks to come.
"We've got some duo at quarterback," Buchanan said. "It's hard not to watch either of them. They both did a very good job, and as long as they continue to use them in the right way, it's like playing against a two-headed monster."
Chandler was masterful with a couple of play-action passes that froze defenders. There wasn't anyone within 10 yards of Tony Martin when he caught a 12-yard touchdown pass to conclude the game's first series. And there wasn't anyone within 25 yards of Jamal Anderson when he caught a pass over the middle for an easy 94-yard touchdown on the Falcons' first drive of the third quarter.
Vick, on the other hand, was electric with his ability to escape. Although he completed two passes for 27 yards, his scrambles of 9 and 12 yards late in the first half set up Jay Feely's 25-yard field goal. Then on a third-and-goal early in the fourth quarter, Vick came off the bench for a bootleg run that resulted in a 2-yard touchdown.
"We were going to involve him in certain ways," Atlanta coach Dan Reeves said. "We had some short-yardage and goal-line plays that we were going to use him, whether it be him running for him handing it off. We just felt like his presence would cause some problems for the defense. He had the option to run the ball or throw it according to the defense, and he made the right choice."
Chandler wound up throwing for 244 yards by completing 11 of 14 passes, while Vick added 27 passing yards and 23 on the ground. The mix of experience and exuberance was the perfect elixir for a team that couldn't afford to lose its first two games.
"We know what the kid (Vick) can do, but Chris Chandler won this game for us," said wide receiver Terance Mathis, a 12-year veteran. "Chandler was our quarterback. Michael made some plays, but Chris was the quarterback. There's no controversy here. Right now, it's fun because they both can help us win."
Reeves said the plan to slowly work Vick into the offensive package won't change. The first overall pick of this year's draft played one series in the first half and was ready for any short-yardage situations inside the 5-yard line.
"That's going to be my package," Vick said of goal-line situations. "I'm just trying to play my role. If I have to spot play, then I'll do it."
Carolina quarterback Chris Weinke, a 29-year-old rookie, completed 27 of 41 passes for 276 yards, and he had a 5-yard touchdown run. But the Panthers, who like the Falcons now are 1-1, had too many penalties (seven for 54 yards) and too many blown assignments on defense to keep pace.
"It was kind of back and forth there until we broke their serve in the second half (with the 94-yard touchdown pass)," Chandler said. "It was a good fake (to fullback Bob Christian), and it was just a matter of not overthrowing it. Jamal had the hard part. He had to catch it and then run about 60 yards. When you see somebody that open, you're taught to make him stop and catch it. The last thing I wanted to do was throw it where he couldn't reach it."
The touchdown - the longest in the professional careers of Chandler and Anderson, and second-longest in team history - gave Atlanta a 17-10 lead. Vick added his 2-yard run early in the fourth, and all Carolina could respond with were 26- and 31-yard field goals in the second half.
"When you blow a few assignments and you see guys wide open, that means you are beating yourself," said Panthers linebacker Lester Towns. "In the NFL, there shouldn't be guys that wide open."
The breakdowns also happened on offense for Carolina.
The Panthers got inside the red zone four times, but were forced to settle for three John Kasay field goals and only one touchdown.
"On about four or five critical plays, they seemed to make them when they had to," said Panthers coach George Seifert. "That was the dramatic difference as far as the game was concerned."
Anderson also had 98 rushing yards on 25 carries to help Atlanta win the battle of total yards, 377-359.
Atlanta plays at Arizona on Sept. 30.
Reach Don Coble at email@example.com.
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