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Desert oasis

Falcons' offense almost as hot as the weather

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Posted: Sunday September 30, 2001 7:25 PM
Updated: Sunday September 30, 2001 9:41 PM

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Even without Jamal Anderson, Michael Vick and Tony Martin, the Atlanta Falcons were an offensive powerhouse against the mistake-prone Arizona Cardinals.

Chris Chandler threw for three touchdowns, two to Terance Mathis, and rookie Jay Feely kicked field goals of 34 and 55 yards as the Falcons routed the Cardinals 34-14 on Sunday.

With his two scoring receptions, Mathis passed Andre Rison as the Falcons' career leader with 57.

Maurice Smith, playing in place of the injured Anderson, rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown in 21 carries. Smith, who didn't carry the ball in Atlanta's first two games, also went 79 yards for a touchdown on a short pass from Chandler, who was 20-for-28 for 286 yards with no interceptions.

"You never know when you're going to have somebody go down," Atlanta head coach Dan Reeves said. "Today we lost a great player in Jamal, and Maurice stepped in and did a great job."

The paid crowd was announced at 28,878 at 73,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium. Temperature at kickoff was 104 with a 20 mph east wind.

The heat should have made things tough for the black-clad Falcons (2-1), but they dominated early, held off a brief rally in the third quarter and took advantage of four second-half Arizona turnovers.

Vick was out with sore ribs and Martin with a cracked collarbone, then Anderson left with an injured left knee early in the game. Reeves said he thought his star running back would be out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but Anderson said this one didn't feel as bad as the torn ACL he had two years ago. He hoped tests Monday would show the injury to be less severe.

Anderson went out during a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the game's opening series.

For the second week in a row, turnovers doomed the Cardinals (0-2).

"It was an embarrassing performance, by me, by our football team," head coach Dave McGinnis said, "against a team coming into our home place that we should have matched up against better than that."

Feely matched the second-longest field goal in Falcons history with a 55-yarder that put Atlanta up 13-0 with four seconds left in the first half.

Jake Plummer was 23-of-35 for 276 yards and a touchdown for Arizona, but fumbled a snap and threw three interceptions, all in the second half.

Plummer said the Cardinals inexplicably came out flat. How could a team that has lost nine in a row dating back to last season do that?

"Good question," Plummer said. "We'll have to answer that ourselves, look inside to see why."

The Falcons used up 8 minutes, 50 seconds on their opening drive, on which Chandler was 6-for-6. And they ended the drive by turning a near-disaster into a score.

On a flea-flicker, Smith slipped to the ground, then fumbled. He grabbed ball, flipped it back to Chandler, who threw 17 yards to a wide-open Mathis for the score.

"Me and Mo haven't worked that much together, and I think our feet got tangled up," Chandler said. "All of a sudden I saw him trip and the ball came out. He did a great job of just getting me the football."

Down 13-0, the Cardinals took the second-half kickoff and went 80 yards in four plays, helped by pass interference calls against Marty Carter and Ashley Ambrose.

Michael Pittman, suspended for last week's season opener after two domestic violence arrests last summer, went 24 yards untouched for the touchdown, cutting the lead to 13-7.

Atlanta punted, but the Falcons' Keith Brooking recovered a fumbled snap between center Mike Gruttadauria and Plummer.

"It's just a play where I've got to stay in there," Plummer said. "Grut's reaching hard to the left. The timing was off a little bit, but that's a play we can't have."

Seven plays later, Mathis banged into the end zone on a 10-yard pass play that made it 20-7.

"I was having a flashback to my rookie year in 1998," Brooking said. "It seemed like every time we created a turnover, our offense put it in the zone for us."

Chandler completed passes of 14 yards to Reggie Kelly and 11 to Mathis to set up Smith's 1-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter to boost the lead to 27-7.

Darrick Vaughn's interception then stopped Arizona's drive at the Atlanta 20. Three plays later, Chandler caught the blitzing Cardinals with a short pass to Smith, who raced for his second score of the day.

Notes: The Cardinals are 1-10 since McGinnis became head coach. ... Arizona has seven turnovers in its first two games, with six of them resulting in points for the opponent. ... Cardinals defensive tackle Mao Tosi left the game with a sprained right knee, with an MRI scheduled Monday. ... In three games, Chandler has completed 42 of 60 passes for 651 yards and five touchdowns with just one interception.

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