Few people expected the Atlanta Falcons to be so good -- or the New England Patriots so bad.
The Falcons rolled on the road against a team with a winning record -- rare accomplishments for them -- with a 41-10 win Sunday in which they displayed a balanced offense and dominating defense.
"Everybody was checking to see how the Falcons would respond - two first-place teams, a hostile environment - and we definitely responded," said Jamal Anderson, who rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Chris Chandler threw for 240 and two scores and the defense had six sacks and held the Patriots to a season-low 223 yards, including only 18 on the ground.
The Falcons (7-2), who led 14-0 after six minutes, improved on their best start ever and kept at least a share of the NFC West lead with San Francisco. The Patriots (5-4) fell out of a four-way tie for first in the AFC East.
| Jamal Anderson carries linebacker Ted Johnson, Willie Clay and Ty Law for a few extra yards during the first quarter. (AP) |
"It never once entered my mind we would lose like this," Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson said. "We were overwhelmed. It seemed like nothing was working on both sides of the ball."
New England had a chance to come back midway through the second quarter with a fourth-and-2 at the Atlanta 13-yard line and the score 21-3. But the Patriots tried for a first down rather than a field goal, Drew Bedsoe fumbled, and 262-pound Chuck Smith returned the ball 71 yards for a touchdown and a 28-3 halftime lead.
"It was a huge play," Falcons safety Eugene Robinson said. "That really demoralizes a team."
"If we continue to play like this, we've got no shot," Bledsoe said.
The Falcons handed the Patriots their biggest loss in 52 games and erased any doubts they can dominate on the road against a winning team. Until Sunday, they were 2-2 away from home and had beaten two teams with winning records.
"It's a great win and all that but they keep getting bigger," Chandler said. "The 49ers game (next Sunday) is by far going to be the biggest of the year, and it's at home."
Against the Patriots, Anderson scored on a 1-yard run on the Falcons' third play and Chandler threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to O.J. Santiago on their eighth after a fumble recovery by John Burrough.
"It started out in a horrific manner," Patriots coach Pete Carroll said. "There isn't any bright spot, no silver lining."
The Patriots continued their slump since improving to 4-1 with a 40-10 win over Kansas City, then the NFL's top defense. Their only win since then was a 21-16 squeaker over the lowly Indianapolis Colts.
But the Falcons offense is far more potent.
They improved on their average of 26.5 points per game, fifth in the NFL, as Chandler threw two scoring passes to Santiago and Morten Andersen kicked field goals from 40 and 32 yards.
"We wanted to establish a physical presence right away," Anderson said.
Chandler's touchdown pass to Santiago early in the first quarter gave him at least one in 20 consecutive games. He finished with 15 completions in 22 attempts for 240 yards.
"I personally was expecting as tough a defense as we've played all year," Chandler said.
The Patriots continued to struggle with key offensive players sidelined, including three wide receivers. Vincent Brisby missed his fourth straight game, and Terry Glenn and Troy Brown sat out their third in a row. The Patriots also missed the blocking of fullback Tony Carter, recovering from knee surgery.
Adam Vinatieri's 40-yard field goal after Ty Law's sixth interception of the season cut the lead to 14-3.
Anderson's 10-yard run on the Falcons next drive made it 21-3 before the Patriots tried the risky play that resulted in Smith's touchdown with 6:28 left for a 28-3 halftime lead.
It was one of three fumble recoveries by the Falcons, who increased their NFL-leading total to 16.
The Patriots' only touchdown came on a 2-yard pass from Bledsoe to Ben Coates late in the third quarter.
New England entered the game with the NFL's second-leading defense against the run, but was no match for the bruising Anderson, who rushed for more than 100 yards for the sixth time in his last seven games.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved