Atlanta at Minnesota

Dirty Birds flying south to Miami after stunning Vikes

From perfect to pariah: Anderson's miss kills Vikes

Minnesota's high-powered attack goes haywire

Falcons stop the unstoppable

Notebook: Falcons' win was for Rankin Smith

Chris Chandler says the Falcons finally got the respect they deserve.
 79k wav

  Monday, Jan. 18 12:32am ET
Chandler finally proves he's tough enough
By John Marvel,

MINNEAPOLIS -- Late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's NFC Championship Game, Atlanta quarterback Chris Chandler scrambled up the middle, stumbled and was hit by several Minnesota defenders. Chandler popped up from the pile on one leg, calling timeout as he limped with a bruised knee toward the sideline.

 Chris Chandler
Atlanta's Chris Chandler, left, and Tim Dwight are headed to Miami after stunning the Vikings.

Once again, Chandler was hurt. What else was new?

The guy often referred to by critics as "Crystal Chandelier" has been hobbled his whole career by nagging injuries, leading to a lack-of-toughness knock that has followed him during previous stays with five NFL teams. But this time, nothing was going to keep Chandler from finishing what he had started. When play continued, there was Chandler, limping back to the huddle like a wounded soldier returning to a fight with more ammo.

"He just keeps getting up, doesn't he?" safety Eugene Robinson screamed from the sideline. "You ain't knocking him out today. You ain't knocking him out."

Chandler hit Terance Mathis three plays later for the touchdown that put Atlanta into overtime, where it eventually beat Minnesota 30-27 for a berth in Super Bowl XXXIII. It was symbolic not only of the entire game, but also of the quarterback's career.

"Chris Chandler has picked himself up the whole time he has been in the NFL and just keeps coming at you," defensive end Lester Archambeau said. "He has been knocked forever as being soft, but he hung in there all day and showed the guts he has. They couldn't put him away, just like they couldn't put us away. Maybe people finally figured out what we've known since he got here -- he's a great quarterback. A winner."

The thought all week leading into Sunday was Minnesota needed to stop just the Falcons' potent running attack. But Chandler served notice during the game's opening drive that he would be a factor. A quick strike to Mathis for a gain of nine. ... More of the same, thanks to a great catch by Mathis, for a gain of 19. ... A flare to Tony Martin for 15 yards.

The Vikings were putting eight men in the box to stop Jamal Anderson, so Chandler gladly took what was being given. Finally, on the 12th play of the drive, Anderson scored -- on a 5-yard reception -- and the Falcons opened some eyes before many in the Metrodome had even finished their first beer.

  " They couldn't put him away, just like they couldn't put us away. Maybe people finally figured out what we've known since he got here -- he's a great quarterback. A winner. "
--  Lester Archambeau
on Chris Chandler

"I heard all that stuff about just stopping the run and, frankly, took it personally," Chandler said. "I took it personally, O.J. (Santiago) took it personally, Terance, Tony, all of the receivers. It gave us a little more motivation, something we used all day to our advantage."

Fumbles on their next two drives slowed the attack, but there were signs the Falcons would be able to move the ball. And when the Vikings failed to put away the underdog, Chandler made them pay again with a late second-quarter touchdown that brought the Falcons to 20-14.

The whole afternoon reminded some of a prizefight. The challenger would get bloodied and knocked down, only to get up and land a few big right hands. Chandler played the same role. He was bruised, battered and bleeding, but he kept getting up.

A couple of second-half drives produced only field goals, but they kept Atlanta close. And when Gary Anderson missed his first scoring opportunity in nearly two years, a 38-yard field goal attempt that somehow slid wide left, the Falcons and their scrapheap QB found themselves with yet another chance.

"It was kind of like destiny, I guess," receiver Tim Dwight said. "They couldn't put us away, and Chris kept bringing us back. He was awesome. He'd get hit, shake it off and come right back at them. That drive where we tied it in the fourth quarter, it was really weird. It was like we knew exactly what was going to happen. And Chris just took us down the field."

It wasn't as pretty as a John Elway-led fourth-quarter drive, but the result was just as beautiful. And when Mathis brought the pass down, Chandler limped to the sideline, but felt no pain.

"That ranked right up there with any big-time quarterback," said Atlanta coach Dan Reeves, who was around Elway in Denver and Roger Staubach in Dallas. "You know, he's done it with the pressure on him, made some big-time throws, did it after being hurt, just hung in there. When we signed him, I talked to him and told him we're going to stick our neck out to sign him because I thought he could win a Super Bowl for us. Now he's one game away from doing that, and I think he's good enough to do it."

The numbers were those of a superstar -- 27-for-43 for 340 yards and three touchdowns. But the only numbers that mattered to Chandler were the ones on the scoreboard: Atlanta 30, Minnesota 27. To all those who gave up on him -- the Colts, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Rams and Oilers -- the message was clear: The guy apparently is good enough, tough enough, to help get his team to the Super Bowl.

"I got over all of the talk a long time ago," Chandler said. "I started to play pretty good a couple of years ago, and all of those teams are still struggling. The only people I answer to are my teammates and the fans of Atlanta. Nothing else matters. I'm just doing what I can to try to help my team win a Super Bowl."

As the Falcons walked off the field, Santiago hugged Chandler and whispered in his ear.

"You showed everyone today, man, you showed everyone," Santiago said.

A few minutes later, Chandler wasn't quite ready to live up to his tight end's exclamation.

"Not yet," the quarterback said. "We still have one more to go. One more to go."

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