Originally created 12/31/01

Falcons notebook

MIAMI - Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas was clearly the best defensive player on the field in the Falcons' 21-14 loss Sunday afternoon.

Few people seemed to notice as Atlanta's beleaguered defense was turning in its best performance of the year.

The Falcons, who came in with the NFL's worst passing defense and its second-worst total defense, allowed only 226 yards of net offense. Miami gained only 50 yards rushing on 20 attempts.

First-year defensive coordinator Don Blackmon, whose unit had allowed 134 points in the last four games, gave up two touchdowns. The Dolphin defense scored Miami's first six points.

"I hate losing like that," cornerback Ray Buchanan said of Atlanta's ability to stifle the offense of coordinator Chan Gailey, who was hired as Georgia Tech's head coach on Saturday. "I'd rather get blown out by 58 than lose a game like that."

The previous best for the Atlanta defense was holding Carolina to 247 yards in a 10-7 victory Nov. 25.

SUPERMAN: Thomas, a sixth-year veteran from Texas Tech, finished with a game-high 14 tackles, marking the 12th time in 15 games he's led or shared the team lead.

He had two of the Dolphins' four sacks and stopped Bob Christian's attempted 1-yard touchdown catch in the third and stuffed Maurice Smith at the goal line on the following play.

Thomas was in on all three of the Dolphins' final plays on their fourth-quarter goal-line stand.

LITTLE ROOM AT THE INN: Smith gained 16 yards to set up his 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The Falcons' second-year running back finished with only 38 net yards on 15 carries.

As a team, though, Atlanta gained 152 yards on 37 carries. The Falcons had averaged just 61 in their three previous games.

IN THE GALLERY: Prospective team owner Arthur Blank watched the game from a private suite. Blank, the co-founder and former chairman of The Home Depot, agreed with the Smith family earlier this month to buy the Falcons for $545 million.

Blank toured the Pro Player Stadium field with team president Taylor Smith before the game. Blank did not travel with the team, though, choosing instead to fly in a private charter jet.

RECORD TIME: Terance Mathis tied, then passed Ozzie Newsome for 17th place on the all-time receptions list.

Mathis, who caught four passes for 62 yards, needed three to reach 662 for his career and move past Newsome, the current Baltimore GM who formerly starred at tight end for the Cleveland Browns and Alabama Crimson Tide.

BAD LUCK: Jay Feely had gone 12-for-12 on field goal attempts on the road this year, but the rookie had his 44-yard attempt blocked in the first quarter by Kenny Mixon.

OUCH: In addition to quarterback Chris Chandler, who left in the second quarter with a bruised right elbow, the Falcons lost center Todd McClure to a strained left foot. Rookie Roberto Garza, who started his third straight game at left guard, moved into McClure's spot, and Bob Hallen briefly reclaimed his position at left guard.

Punt returner Darrien Gordon didn't return in the second half after spraining an ankle.

BLIND EYE: Thinking receiver Tony Martin would continue on a deep route down the middle, Chandler let Miami forge a 7-7 when Brock Marion easily intercepted him and ran for a 26-yard score at the end of the first.


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