DeBerg, Falcons Stop Saints

The Atlanta Falcons knew they could win with Chris Chandler at quarterback. On Sunday, they finally proved they could win without him.

Even though 44-year-old Steve DeBerg had to take over for the injured Chandler, Atlanta (5-1) matched the best start in franchise history with a 31-23 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

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  • DeBerg threw his first touchdown pass since 1993, while the Falcons defense chipped in with six points on Eugene Robinson's 25-yard interception return for a touchdown.

    "My responsibility was not to lose the football game," said DeBerg, who retired as a player after the '93 season but came back this year. "I really didn't feel like I played as well as I'm capable."

    It was good enough for the Falcons, who let out a collective gasp when Chandler suffered bruised ribs and a sprained left shoulder on a sack by Mark Fields with 1:20 left in the first half.

    It was the latest setback in an injury-plagued career that included two concussions, a sprained ankle and bruised sternum last season. He missed two games altogether and parts of four others -- and the Falcons lost all six. They are 11-4 when Chandler plays a complete game.

    "Football is the biggest team sport there is," he said. "The whole team played well, especiallin the fourth quarter, and that's what won it for us."

    Chandler hobbled off the field in obvious pain, but he is hopeful that the injury will respond to treatment this week and he'll be able to play next Sunday against the Jets.

    "It's just hard to breathe and move that shoulder right now," he said. "There's nothing in there that is broken or cracked."

    The Atlanta defense stifled the Saints in the second half before a defensive breakdown by rookie cornerback Elijah Williams allowed Keith Poole to get loose for an 82-yard touchdown pass from Billy Joe Tolliver with 3:19 remaining.

    But the second long scoring play from Tolliver to Poole -- they also hooked up on a 64-yarder -- wasn't enough to prevent New Orleans from suffering its third straight loss after a 3-0 start.

    "We are not tough enough," coach Mike Ditka said. "I am not happy about this at all. But I'm not going to sit here and make excuses. You saw what happened. They were tougher than us."

    The Falcons also started 5-1 in 1986, but that team went on to lose seven of its last nine games and missed the playoffs.

    DeBerg was sacked in the end zone by Wayne Martin for a safety on Atlanta's first series of the second half, pulling the Saints to within 17-16. The Falcons were held to minus-15 yards in the third period.

    But the NFL's oldest player since George Blanda guided the Falcons on a six-play, 50-yard touchdown drive in the final quarter. On a third-and-1 at the 8, DeBerg flipped a pass to fullback Bob Christian, who broke four tackles to reach the end zone and give the Falcons a 24-16 lead with 11:05 remaining.

    DeBerg completed 7 of 10 passes for 60 yards following Chandler, who went 7-of-10 for 129 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown pass to Tony Martin.

    After Christian's touchdown it took the Falcons only 28 seconds to reach the end zone again. Billy Joe Tolliver overthrew Andre Hastings and the ball sailed straight to Robinson, who weaved back through the middle of the field for another TD.

    "We had an opportunity today to win a football a game, but we had too many turnovers (four) and penalties (13 for 101 yards)," said Tolliver, a former Falcons backup making his first start for the Saints. "They made us pay for it."

    Jamal Anderson rushed for 132 yards on 25 carries, tying Gerald Riggs' team record with his fourth straight 100-yard game. Anderson scored the Falcons' first TD on a 31-yard run in the second quarter.

    Tolliver was named the started over Danny Wuerffel after New Orleans was routed 31-0 by San Francisco last week. Tolliver completed 14-of-29 for 261 yards.

    But Tolliver also had one of the three fumbles recovered by the Falcons, after New Orleans went the first five games without losing a fumble.

    "The fumbles were ridiculous," Ditksaid. "It's silly. It's a lack of discipline. I don't coach that way, so we will go back to basic football."

    The crowd of 60,774 was the largest at the Georgia Dome since an Oct. 29, 1995, game against Dallas, which attracted the last sellout to the 72,000-seat stadium.


  • Kerry Collins , acquired on waivers from Carolina, suited up for the first time in a Saints uniform as the emergency quarterback behind Tolliver and Wuerffel.
  • Atlanta has a seven-game winning streak over the Saints, last losing to New Orleans in 1994.
  • The Falcons have 116 points in their last three games.
  • Qadry Ismail of the Saints suffered a sprained neck returning a kickoff but was able to stay in the game.
  • Atlanta has outscored its opponents 110-46 in the second half.

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