ATLANTA - Former Atlanta Falcons coach Jerry Glanville once said NFL stands for "not for long," in the National Football League. Truer words were never more evident Sunday inside the Georgia Dome.
The optimism and momentum gained in the team's 20-13 victory at New Orleans two weeks ago and festered during a bye week didn't last long. The huge gains on defense and the efficiency at the quarterback position proved fleeting.
All the recent talk about the Falcons playing themselves back into the playoff race wasn't matched with effort in a dreadful 24-10 loss to New England. A game that was supposed to define the team's improvement had far too many reminders of its pathetic past.
The Falcons started the afternoon one game out of the wild card race. Now they seem a million miles from respectability. The glimmer of hope that it had, at long last, returned to the level that propelled them into their only Super Bowl three years ago, didn't last very long.
"Nobody played well," said Atlanta coach Dan Reeves.
The offensive line, hailed as few as three days ago as new and improved, was overwhelmed by a Patriots rush that forced nine sacks and sent starting quarterback Chris Chandler to the infirmary late in the third quarter with sore ribs.
Before he walked off the field listing heavily to the right, Chandler had completed just eight of 20 passes for 99 yards and a 19-yard touchdown to Shawn Jefferson.
"There were different looks and formations than their films showed," Chandler said of the New England defense. "They had been applying a lot of pressure and getting through to me. I took a hit to my ribs (on the sixth sack) and by the time I went down, I could not move."
The 14-year veteran, who had the second-best quarterback efficiency rating before the game, was knocked down on nearly every attempt, and his receivers didn't give him much help by dropping at least five balls.
Although Michael Vick scrambled for 50 yards in the fourth quarter, he couldn't do any better than driving the team to a late field goal. Now that Chandler's hurt and the team seems to back to its old antics, the maturation process for Vick may be fast-forwarded to next week's game against Dallas.
New England, now 4-4, confused and out-played the Atlanta front with a perfect mix of three-man rushes and blitzes. The Falcons tried everything, including shorter routes, lineup changes and extra blockers, but it didn't seem to help.
"I thought our football team was ready," Reaves said. "Apparently we did a poor job of preparing because you can't play that poorly without a lot of help. They beat us in every phase. They beat us coaching-wise, and they beat us playing-wise.
The Chandler-to-Jefferson touchdown pass with 2:35 remaining in the first quarter, along with Jay Feely's point after kick, gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead.
But the Patriots rallied for 24 unanswered points, triggering a chorus of boos that started in the second quarter and intensified until the fourth, when most of the 44,229 fans lost interest and headed home early.
Former Blackville-Hilda (S.C.) standout Troy Brown scored one of New England's touchdowns. Patriots QB Tom Brady had one of his passes pass bounced off Atlanta's Ashley Ambrose and into Brown's hands for a touchdown.
Brady, who was a fourth-string quarterback a year ago before taking over for injured Drew Bledsoe this season, completed 21 of 31 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
The Falcons talked extensively last week of using the two-game homestand as a springboard for a second-half push. Now the team is looking for the kind of solutions to avoid a total collapse.
Atlanta now is 1-3 at home, including a three-game losing streak in which it has been out-scored 92-44.
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