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4 atlanta Falcons
Michael Silver
September 03, 2001
Jamal Anderson and his teammates are fighting to regain respectability
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September 03, 2001

4 Atlanta Falcons

Jamal Anderson and his teammates are fighting to regain respectability

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PROJECTED LINEUP
with 2000 statistics

COACH: Dan Reeves; fifth season with Atlanta (171-140-1 in NFL)

2000 RECORD: 4-12 (fifth in NFC West) NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 28/24/30; defense 27 /24/25

OFFENSIVE BACKS

QB

Chris Chandler

98*

331 att.

192 comp.

58.0%

2,236 yds.

10 TDs

12 int.

73.5 rtg.

RB

Jamal Anderson

27*

282 att.

1,024 yds.

3.6 avg.

42 rec.

382 yds.

9.1 avg.

6 TDs

RB

Maurice Smith

284*

19 att.

69 yds.

3.6 avg.

1 rec.

5 yds.

5.0 avg.

0 TDs

FB

Bob Christian

263*

9 att.

19 yds.

2.1 avg.

44 rec.

315 yds.

7.2 avg.

0 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

WR

Shawn Jefferson

105*

60 rec.

822 yds.

2 TDs

WR

Terance Mathis

158*

57 rec.

679 yds.

5 TDs

WR

Tony Martin#

133*

26 rec.

393 yds.

2 TDs

TE

Reggie Kelly

234*

31 rec.

340 yds.

2 TDs

K

Jake Arians?

309*

16/17 XPs

12/15 FGs

52 pts.

PR

Darrien Gordon#

367

29 ret.

8.9 avg.

0 TDs

KR

Darrick Vaughn

335*

39 ret.

27.7 avg.

3 TDs

LT

Bob Whitfield

6'5"

310 lbs.

15 games

15 starts

LG

Bob Hallen

6'4"

295 lbs.

16 games

5 starts

C

Todd McClure

6'1"

286 lbs.

10 games

7 starts

RG

Kynan Forney (R)#

6'3"

304 lbs.

11 games

11 starts

RT

Travis Claridge

6'5"

300 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

DEFENSE

LE

Patrick Kerney

45 tackles

2� sacks

LT

Travis Hall

62 tackles

4� sacks

RT

Shane Dronett

8 tackles

1 sack

RE

Brady Smith

33 tackles

4� sacks

OLB

Antony Jordan

6 tackles

0 sacks

MLB

Jessie Tuggle

33 tackles

0 sacks

OLB

Keith Brooking

35 tackles

1 sack

CB

Ray Buchanan

80 tackles

6 int.

SS

Marry Carter

94 tackles

2 sacks

FS

Ronnie Bradford

69 tackles

3 int.

CB

Ashley Ambrose

37 tackles

4 int.

P

Chris Mohr#

95 punts

38.5 avg.

New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
?1999 college statistics

He powered his tree-trunk-like legs toward teammate Mark Simoneau, a 234-pound linebacker, driving him back several yards, and smashed through a pair of beefy defensive linemen and into the end zone. Then 5'11", 237-pound halfback Jamal Anderson, hero of the Falcons' only Super Bowl season, spiked the ball into the South Carolina mud and provided an updated—and R-rated—version of the Dirty Bird.

"That's right, m——————, I'm ready!" Anderson screamed at a group of defenders, enlivening the end of a rainy practice session a week into training camp. "Y'all m—————— can't stop me! If any one of y'all a———- wants to step up and test me, I'll do the same damn thing."

A few plays earlier Anderson had completely lost his cool, escalating a posttackle shoving match by whacking linebacker Jeff Kelly with an open-handed left hook to an ear hole of his helmet. That set off the biggest fight at a Falcons practice in several years and, in a bizarre way, gave this flailing franchise (9-23 since its 34-19 loss to the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII) a shred of hope for 2001. "Ever since that day he's had fire in his eyes, and that's something I haven't seen from him since 1998," cornerback Ray Buchanan says of Anderson. "We loved it because he runs better when he's mad, and right now he's running with more thug in him than ever before."

Anderson has been outrageously ornery while watching Atlanta, which hasn't had a Pro Bowl player for the past two seasons, plummet toward NFL irrelevance. Late last year, as he struggled to rebound from reconstructive surgery on his right knee and the Falcons wheezed to a 4-12 record that left them at the bottom of the NFC West, Anderson and several teammates initiated a locker room Fight Club patterned after the film. While the dozen or so players involved waged only open-handed battles, most of the participants were a tad more physically imposing than Edward Norton or Brad Pitt. "There was a lot of pent-up aggression and emotion," says tackle Bob Whitfield. "Our attitude was, We ain't beating anyone else, so we might as well beat on each other. It was our way of coming together."

The dramatic trade in April that landed Atlanta the No. 1 draft pick, which it used to select quarterback Michael Vick, may have given the franchise hopes of a bright future, but if the Falcons are going to succeed this season, Anderson will be the key. In 1998 he set an NFL record with 410 carries and gained 1,846 yards, the ninth-best single-season total in history. Then he blew out his knee in the second game of '99 and returned to action as a lesser threat in 2000, scrapping his way to 1,024 yards on 282 carries behind a shabby line.

The good news for Falcons fans is that Anderson believes he's ready to run as he did in 1998. Less cheery to them was Atlanta's failure to bring in any new blockers. Though the Falcons re-signed free agent Whitfield, one of the league's better left tackles, the other four positions will be manned by players who struggled in 2000. In the off-season coach Dan Reeves replaced line coach Art Shell with Pete Mangurian, who immediately began a scorched-girth policy. Which linemen were overweight? "All of them," Mangurian says. "Their collective body fat was off the charts. When you're too big, that's when you get tired and hurt, and last year that killed their continuity."

Other Falcons are less concerned with the linemen's tummies than with their hearts. "They've been playing like garbage the past two years," Buchanan says. "Now these guys know this is their last chance."

Last year Atlanta ranked second-to-last in the league in two key categories-sacks allowed (61) and third-down conversion percentage (28.9)—and had the NFL's fourth-worst rushing attack. With an improved running offense, oft-injured 35-year-old quarterback Chris Chandler will have more time to get the ball to his trio of veteran wideouts (Terance Math-is, Shawn Jefferson and the reacquired Tony Martin) and may also have a chance to stay healthy. Then the 2001 Falcons could save their biggest blows for outside the locker room. Says Whitfield, "We're going to continue the Fight Club—but we're going to fight other people instead of ourselves."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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