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Falcons Make Bears Next Victim


The Atlanta Falcons can breathe again. Chris Chandler appears to be OK.

Chandler threw a pair of touchdown passes as the Falcons rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half to beat Chicago 20-13 Sunday for their fourth straight victory.

But Chandler, probably the team's most irreplaceable player, wasn't around at the end. He sprained his right knee and ankle on a ugly-looking play with 6:29 remaining, causing a giant gasp in the Georgia Dome.

Team doctor Andrew Bishop said the ankle sprain appeared to be the most serious part of the injury. Chandler suffered no ligament damage in his knee, though he is questionable for next week's game at St. Louis.

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Week 12:

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  • "It's certainly not a season-threatening or career-threatening injury," Bishop said.

    The injury occurred on a false start by center Robbie Tobeck. Officials were trying to whistle the play dead when Chicago's Mike Wells broke through the line and pulled down Chandler, whose right leg buckled under his body and caused a burning sensation in his knee.

    "It scared me real bad," he admitted.

    Chandler said he felt Wells didn't have to take him to the turf, but no other penalty was called.

    "It was kind of a fluke play," Wells said. "I didn't mean anything by it."

    Clearly, Atlanta (9-2) must have Chandler on the field to remain on top of the NFC West and advance in the playoffs.

    Over the past two seasons, the Falcons are 14-4 when Chandler plays an entire game. They are 2-7 otherwise, including a 28-3 loss to the New York Jets with 44-year-old Steve DeBerg as the starter -- their worst defea this season.

    "We don't need those demons back in this locker room," receiver Terance Mathis said. "We don't need those demons back in this organization. We've got to keep Chris healthy."

    DeBerg finished out Sunday's victory and would likely start against the Rams if Chandler can't play.

    "I think we're good enough to win without Chris, but we're definitely not as good a team when he's not in there," DeBerg said. "He's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. It was a long time ago that anybody thought of me in that class."

    Before he was injured, Chandler brought the Falcons back from a 13-3 deficit. He threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Mathis late in the third period and an 11-yarder to Todd Kinchen with 9:32 remaining.

    Jamal Anderson, who didn't practice most of the week because of an ankle injury, started slowly for the Falcons. The 1,000-yard rusher gained only 12 yards in the first half, but had 60 yards on 15 carries in the second, including a remarkable effort where he broke at least four tackles for an 8-yard run.

    William White
    Atlanta's William White takes down Bears QB Steve Stenstrom in the Falcons' 20-13 victory -- their eighth consecutive home victory. (AP)

    After Chandler went down, the Falcons defense took over. Bears quarterback Steve Stenstrom, filling in again for Erik Kramer, fumbled on a hit by Chuck Smith and Cornelius Bennett recovered, setting up Morten Andersen's 44-yard field goal with 1:58 to go.

    Then, Ronnie Bradford intercepted Stenstrom's pass and the Falcons ran out the clock.

    "The guys were upset (after Chandler's injury)," Mathis said. "They started playing harder."

    Chicago (3-8) took its third straight loss, gaining only 210 yards even though the Bears dominated both sides of the line for about 2½ quarters.

    "We just didn't finish the game like we started," said running back Edgar Bennett, who rushed for 54 yards in the first half, 15 in the second. "Yeah, it was close. But close doesn't mean squat in this league."

    Atlanta also was plagued by uncharacteristic mistakes. A touchdown pass was called back because of offensive pass interference, and Kinchen fumbled at the Chicago 6 on the next-to-last play of the first half.

    The Bears broke a 3-3 tie by scoring 10 points in just over a minute of the third period. Glyn Milburn's 61-yard kickoff return to begin the second half set up Jeff Jaeger's 32-yard field goal.

    On Atlanta's second play after the kickoff, Chandler fumbled on a hit by Jim Flanigan and Shawn Lee picked off the ball in the air, rumbling 15 yards for Chicago's only touchdown.

    Notes

  • The Falcons have the second-best record in the FC, but there were still more than 10,000 empty seats in the Georgia Dome. The announced crowd was 60,804.
  • Kramer (shoulder) missed his third straight game and Wannstedt wasn't sure if he'll be able to play next week, either.
  • Chandler rushed for 25 yards, giving him 1,000 in his career.
  • Bennett's fumble recovery was the 23rd of his career, tied for fourth on the NFL list.
  • Atlanta set a team record with its eighth straight home victory.

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