When he gave Chandler the opportunity, Reeves had only one question: Could Chandler stay healthy? "If he goes down, we could lose every game," says tight end O.J. Santiago. "If he's healthy, we could win every game."
In the first half of last season Chandler missed two games and parts of four others with an assortment of injuries, and the Falcons lost all six. In the second half, when he started and finished every game, the Falcons made a remarkable turnaround, winning six of eight en route to a 7-9 finish. Chandler ended the year with the NFL's second-best quarterback rating, trailing only the 49ers' Steve Young. No one had a better rating inside the red zone, where Chandler threw 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He became one of the game's top guns and still could walk through airports unnoticed. "One day I actually saw a jersey with my number, 12, in the stands," Chandler says. "That was something I'd never seen before. Probably said C. MILLER on the back."
The day before this season opened, Reeves and the Falcons showed just how much they're sold on Chandler when they agreed to the four-year extension, which included a $6 million signing bonus. Even better: Atlanta has no hyped-up, high-priced rookie quarterback or starry-eyed second-stringer angling for Chandler's job. DeBerg is older than five NFL head coaches. "We didn't want to make Chris think we were not committed to him," says Reeves. "We just figured we'd stick out our necks, put a good cast around him and see if he can stay healthy for an entire season. There's no doubt he is vital to our success."
For Chandler, who turns 33 next week, this is unfamiliar territory. With a job to call his own and a coach who believes in him, he says he will finally pull off the road and stay awhile. He recently sold his house in Lake Tahoe and moved his family to Atlanta. That was the first time, he says, he had made such a commitment to an NFL city.
"It's probably just coincidence," says Chandler, "but most of the people who got rid of me were fired or quit shortly thereafter. You can look it up." He pauses and runs through the enemies list in his mind one more time. He fights back a smile.
"Not that I wish bad luck on anyone," he says.
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