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  •   Chandler Falls Apart in Big Game

    super bowl logo By Paul Newberry
    Associated Press
    Monday, February 1, 1999; 3:37 a.m. EST

    MIAMI – Chris Chandler chuckled when someone pointed out – before the Super Bowl – that his quarterback rating was higher than John Elway's over the past two years.

    It turned out to be a prophetic gesture.

    Elway looked every bit like a seasoned Super Bowl veteran in Denver's 34-19 victory over Atlanta on Sunday night, throwing for 336 yards and winning the MVP award unanimously. Chandler? He looked every bit like a big-game neophyte, throwing three backbreaking interceptions in the second half.

    Afterwards, Chandler admitted that the first Super Bowl of his 11-year career was an experience like no other.

    "The game itself is [just] a football game,'' Chandler said. "All the things surrounding it are a little bit new to me. How much of an effect that had, I don't know, but it was definitely something that I'd never had to deal with before.''

    Chandler, who looked so poised in the NFC championship game, once again resembled the journeyman who bounced around to five teams in his first nine seasons.

    "We could have done things better,'' Chandler said. "But they did a good job covering things.''

    Both Chandler and his teammates were new at all this, so maybe it was understandable they froze against the savvy Broncos, who won their second straight championship in their sixth Super Bowl.

    Chandler, who had thrown only 13 interceptions all season, was picked off on three straight possessions in the second half, the first two coming when there was still a glimmer of hope for the Falcons.

    With Atlanta trailing 17-6, Chandler moved the Falcons to the Denver 41 with a 19-yard pass to Tony Martin and a 12-yard run of his own. But Chandler was sacked for a 6-yard loss, then misfired on a pass over the middle that was picked off by Darrius Johnson and returned 28 yards.

    Denver's Jason Elam missed his second straight field goal, keeping Atlanta hanging on by its fingertips. Once again, the Falcons couldn't maintain their grip.

    Chandler's pass was deflected at the line by Keith Traylor and landed right in the hands of Darrien Gordon, who returned it 58 yards to set up a touchdown run by Howard Griffith. The score was 24-6, the game was getting out of hand.

    "Things were there for the taking,'' Chandler said. "It was just unlucky things that happened. A guy tips a ball. You never plan on that.''

    Chandler had one final chance, moving the Falcons to the Denver 21. But there was a breakdown with Martin. The receiver ran a deeper route than Chandler expected, and the pass sailed to Gordon for another interception.

    Chandler leaped in the air in disbelief as Gordon ran the other way with a 50-yard return, leading to another TD.

    "It was 100 percent miscommunication between myself and Tony,'' Chandler said. "Tony felt like he could beat him top deep and I thought he was going to be going at a sharper, flatter angle. And the only guy who was ready was Gordon.''

    Chandler also had to deal with the loss of his center, Robbie Tobeck, who was knocked out of the game late in the second quarter with a sprained knee ligament. He was replaced by Adam Schreiber, a 15-year veteran whose main duty this season was snapping on punts and kicks.

    "You never want to lose one of your starters,'' Chandler said. "Whether that had a big impact – until you see the film, you have no idea.''

    Tobeck, who hobbled out of the locker room on crutches, doesn't expect the injury to require surgery. That was little consolation.

    "It's frustrating,'' he said. "The biggest game of your life, and you feel like you let your teammates down. But what can you do?''

    The 33-year-old Chandler, after a vagabond career, finally found a home with the Falcons, who acquired him for mere fourth- and sixth-round draft picks prior to the 1997 season.

    Since then, he's been a Pro Bowler twice and actually posted better ratings the last two seasons than Elway.

    Chandler's stature vaulted even higher when he threw for 340 yards against the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings in the conference title game. He directed a game-tying touchdown drive with less than a minute to go in regulation, then drove the Falcons into range for the winning field goal in overtime.

    But the traits that made Chandler look like Elway II deserted him in the biggest game of his life. And the real thing walked off the field with another Super Bowl victory and the MVP award.

    © Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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