Missed Plays Burn Atlanta
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, February 1, 1999; Page D8
MIAMI, Jan. 31 The Atlanta Falcons spent the season earning respect from the rest of the NFL. They don't think they lost all they had gained in a miserable 60 minutes of play tonight in Super Bowl XXXIII.
The team that has been a laughingstock of the NFL for most of its 33 seasons got hammered by the Denver Broncos, 34-19, as it played its worst game of the season on the biggest day of the season.
Still, the Falcons weren't going to forget what they accomplished. The city of Atlanta won't forget either. A parade is planned for the 16-3 team when it returns home Monday.
"I'm going to keep my head up no matter what," said cornerback Ray Buchanan, who had guaranteed that the Falcons would win. "The Lord blessed this football team to come from ground zero to play in the Super Bowl."
Asked if he regretted his prediction, Buchanan quickly said: "I'm not going to apologize. I had the guarantee and the confidence that this football team could win. There was no doubt in my mind. I'll never take that back."
The Falcons wish they could take back a couple of early series that gave Denver plenty of momentum. The Falcons had four possessions inside the Broncos 30-yard line during the first half and scored six points on a pair of field goals from Morten Andersen, who also missed a 26-yard field goal try.
It was surprising to see the Falcons' lousy play close to the Denver end zone. Atlanta was seventh in the NFL in scoring percentage inside opponents' 20-yard line this season. They were 41 of 46 and three of those failures to score occurred when the Falcons took a knee with a big lead rather than run up the score.
Chandler had been particularly effective and mistake-proof inside opponents' 20, with no interceptions and 16 touchdown passes over the last two seasons. But tonight, he threw two of his three interceptions as the Falcons were moving in for potential scores and all three occurred in Denver territory.
On Atlanta's first possession of the game, Chandler was sacked at the Denver 15 and Andersen had to kick a 32-yard field goal. In the second quarter, Chandler overthrew Tim Dwight in the end zone on a third-down play, and Andersen missed a 26-yard field goal attempt.
The next time the Falcons had the ball, Chandler took them to the Broncos 11. But passes on second and third down were incomplete and Andersen came out for another field goal. His 28-yarder cut Denver's lead to 17-6, but the Falcons felt they should have been much closer.
"They covered things really well," Chandler said of the Broncos defense.
Asked to elaborate he just shrugged and said, "They just did."
In the third quarter, with the Falcons trailing 17-6, Chandler took his team to the Broncos 21. But on first down, his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage by defensive tackle Keith Traylor and intercepted by Darrien Gordon, who returned the ball 58 yards to the Atlanta 24. The Broncos scored a touchdown moments later, and the game was over.
"That was huge," Chandler said. The intended receiver "was running a corner route. We had been dropping it in underneath the deep coverage because the corners have a tendency to sneak way inside. It was going to be another corner route, but the ball got tipped."
The Falcons' biggest problem on defense, other than breakdowns by safety Eugene Robinson on several long pass plays, was they couldn't get pressure on quarterback John Elway.
"They used that 'empty' set, with no one in the backfield, and it spread us out and limited what we could do defensively," said Atlanta defensive coordinator Rich Brooks.
The Broncos' spread offense forced the Falcons' linebackers to cover receivers. With no help from blitzers and with Elway in shotgun formation making quick throws, the Falcons couldn't apply pressure.
"We knew they would use that formation and that package, but we didn't think they would use it as much as they did," said defensive tackle Shane Dronett.
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