Dan Henning will visit Washington Monday, and bring along what appears to be just what his old friend Joe Gibbs needs. Henning is bringing his Atlanta Falcons -- what's left of them.
Monday night against the Redskins, the Falcons may be without three of their offensive starters from last week, and that is just the latest problem.
"This," Henning said Friday after two more players were hurt in practice, "is reaching unrealistic proportions."
The Redskins, after an embarrassment by the New York Giants last week, are favored by 10 1/2 points Monday night. And Henning, an assistant to Gibbs until taking over the Falcons two years ago, concedes that another Monday night game is about the last thing his team needs now.
And the Falcons, ABC-TV hints, are about the last thing "Monday Night Football" needs. Last Monday, announcer Frank Gifford touted the Nov. 12 pairing of the Los Angeles Raiders and Seattle Seahawks. Then, as rapidly as he could, he added, "And of course, next Monday night we'll be in Washington."
That Gifford did not mention the name of the Redskins' opponent was not surprising. The Falcons have not only lost three games in a row, but lost in progressively more wretched showings.
The evening of Oct. 22, Gifford, O.J. Simpson and Don Meredith had taken to giggling and poking fun throughout the second half of the Falcons' humiliation by the Los Angeles Rams. The Sunday before, the Falcons had offensive problems during a 19-7 loss to the Giants.
Since their 24-10 loss to the Rams that Monday night, the Falcons have shown no signs of pulling out of their tailspin. Last Sunday, the mediocre Pittsburgh Steelers were the 35-10 beneficiaries of the Falcons' offensive ineptitude.
The Falcons' biggest problem has been the loss of all-pro running back William Andrews and all-pro punt returner/wide reciever Billy (White Shoes) Johnson for the season with injuries.
Things got sour after the loss to the Giants, when Falcons owner Rankin M. Smith called his team "a mystery" and wondered publicly whether some of his personnel were playing "paycheck to paycheck." Andrews, who'd been watching from the sideline, echoed Smith's sentiments, and added, "Maybe we need to be shaken up. Maybe we do."
The Falcons weren't shaken up. But they were shaken. And so now they have the added problem of self-doubt and pressing.
The Falcons already were stumbling over themselves on offense during the past three weeks, with nine turnovers in three games. In the past five games, quarterback Steve Bartkowski has thrown one touchdown pass.
Now, Johnson's replacement at H-back, Floyd Hodge, will not play Monday due to shoulder and ankle injuries incurred against Pittsburgh. Veteran center Jeff Van Note, who has started 111 consecutive games, broke a finger on his snapping hand last Sunday and is doubtful. Starting tight end Arthur Cox suffered a groin pull Friday and is expected to see minimal duty, at best. Sylvester Stamps, a kick returner/running back/receiver, sprained an ankle Friday and may not play.