Chandler Rocks on Road
Home Away From Home
The first couple of boos for Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler typically come after his second or third incompletion in a home game, and they grow into a smattering if he throws an interception. When he turns in a performance like the three-interception day he had against the Bears on Oct. 7, the boos multiply wildly and bounce off the walls and ceiling of the Georgia Dome. If you think a tough home crowd doesn't affect hardened pros, check the numbers: At home Chandler is 1-3 and has completed 55% of his passes, with five touchdowns and six interceptions. On the road he's 4-1 and has completed 62% of his throws, with seven scores and three interceptions.
"On the road you expect to be booed," Chandler, in his fifth year at Atlanta's helm, says. "At home it's become pretty convenient to boo me. I think I'm going to start getting blamed for bad officiating. It's been tough to overcome."
The past 12 months have been tumultuous for the well-traveled Chandler, an efficient but brittle player for most of his 14 NFL seasons. Late last year Chandler landed in coach Dan Reeves's doghouse, getting benched for a pair of starts because of poor performance and lackluster preparation. "It reminded me what a privilege it is to play in the NFL," says Chandler, "and rekindled my love for the game."
Chandler adopted his most aggressive off-season regimen in years. Still, when the Falcons traded up to select quarterback Michael Vick with the first pick in last April's draft, Chandler was reminded that no matter how hard he worked, his days as a starter in Atlanta were numbered. Following a good training camp, Chandler was told by Reeves that Vick would play portions of games. It was a smart way to give the kid seasoning, yet it was weird nonetheless: In September, Chandler was getting pulled despite being the league's top-rated quarterback at the time.
Then came the November ups and downs. During a Nov. 4 loss to the Patriots, Chandler's wife, Diane, took exception when fans in the players' family section at the Georgia Dome cheered after Chris was injured. (He suffered a rib injury and missed one game.) Two weeks later Chris played one of the best games of his career, at Lambeau Field, throwing for 352 yards and two touchdowns in leading Atlanta to a 23-20 upset of the heavily favored Packers.
"What happened in the New England game has been misinterpreted," says Chandler. "The people causing problems were not family members of Falcons' players, as far as we could determine. Diane turned around and told them not to cheer for an injury. Now a big part of me is against Diane going to the games. It makes it hard. Shouldn't the safest and most supportive place in the stadium be the players' family section? I'd rather not be thinking about what's going on in the stands, but when something like that happens, you can't avoid it."
Thus Chandler now enjoys life on the road, even in a tough place to win like Lambeau. "For a football player, playing there's like a golfer playing the British Open," says Chandler. "I was very, very proud of the win, but I've been in the league long enough to know that next week is the only thing that matters."
In Chandler's case the next game was another road game, a 10-7 win over the Panthers on Sunday that improved the Falcons' record to 6-4 and left them in the thick of the NFC playoff chase. Chandler completed 14 passes in 27 attempts and didn't turn the ball over. "The road," Chandler says, "has become a safe haven."
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