Jamal Anderson rushed for a career-high 172 yards and scored three touchdowns Sunday, but it was the return of Chandler that seemed to energize Atlanta.
"When Chris is in there, he gives us great confidence, great leadership," said offensive tackle Bob Whitfield. "We know everything is going to be right on cue."
Atlanta reached the midway point of the season at 6-2 for the first time in franchise history, handing the Rams (2-6) their third consecutive loss.
Even though Anderson eclipsed 100 yards for the fifth time in six games, Chandler's presence made the biggest impact. A week earlier, with 44-year-old Steve DeBerg starting at quarterback, Atlanta lost 28-3 to the New York Jets. But the Falcons are a totally different team when Chandler akes the snaps.
He completed just 12 of 27 passes and threw an interception Ryan McNeil returned 37 yards for a St. Louis touchdown. But Chandler also passed for 236 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown to Anderson and an 18-yarder to Martin that gave the Falcons a 27-7 lead at the half.
| Falcons running back Jamal Anderson (32) runs over the Rams defense for career-high 172-yard game. (AP) |
Chandler has thrown at least one touchdown pass in a team-record 19 consecutive games, and Atlanta is 12-4 over the last two years when he plays a game without getting hurt. Otherwise, the Falcons have just one victory in eight games.
"I would hope we have more confidence when I'm in there," Chandler said. "Sometimes, you give a team confidence that comes out in the form of hard running and blocking, like today."
Anderson loves to run against the Rams, setting his previous career high of 162 yards vs. St. Louis last season. The running back also caught two passes for 31 yards, giving him a total of 203 all-purpose yards.
"Our offensive line controlled the game," said Anderson, who recited each of their names for the media. "They gave me a chance to go wherever I wanted to go."
Anderson nearly outgained the shorthanded Rams by himself. St. Louis, playing without receiver Isaac Bruce (hamstring) and tight Ernie Conwell (out for the season with a knee injury), trailed 17-0 before picking up a first down and finished with 247 yards -- just 46 on the ground.
"We're not as consistent with the group we had in there as we would like," said quarterback Tony Banks, who completed 23 of 37 for 221 yards but was sacked three times. "It's a little different not having the guys in the huddle that you are used to seeing, but that's what the game is all about."
Other than McNeil's interception return, which came when Chandler underthrew a pass to an open receiver, the Rams were downright pathetic in the first half.
Atlanta held a 303-83 advantage in total yards, and St. Louis further helped out by committing nine penalties for 75 yards, including two personal fouls that led to scores.
"I don't feel we are that bad," coach Dick Vermeil said. "But we were today."
Chandler's long pass to Martin set up the touchdown pass to Anderson, giving the Falcons a 7-0 lead just 2 minutes, 33 seconds into the game. Before the period was over, Morten Andersen kicked the first of his three field goals, a 23-yarder, and Anderson scored on a 12-yard run to give the Falcons a 17-0 lead.
Atlanta stretched the lead to 34-7 in the third quarter with a 55-yard drive in which Anderson's running accounted for all but one yard. A 48-yrd run, the longest of his career, set up a 4-yard TD.
Anderson set the career high even though he didn't play in the fourth quarter.
While the Falcons have beaten only one team that had a winning record before Sunday's games, they have still made a remarkable turnaround from the last two years. Atlanta's previous records at the halfway point were 0-8 and 1-7, respectively.
Even with the improvement, the Falcons are the still in a tough sell at home. The game drew an announced crowd of 37,996 - the fifth smallest since the Falcons moved to the Georgia Dome in 1992.
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