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For Once, Falcons Have a Rare Chance to Gloat : In a Season When Their Wins Are Few and Far Between, This One Was Sweet

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

There are certain perks that come with a 30-14 beating of your division leader and Sunday, following their victory over the Embraceable Ewes, uh, L.A. Rams, the Atlanta Falcons began enjoying them.

First, they congratulated themselves for a thorough undressing of the once-impressive Rams. Sherman would have been pleased with the pillaging that went on at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium Sunday. The Falcons, who won just their second game, held the Rams, no whiz kids on offense anyway, to season lows in first downs, total net yards, total plays, net yards rushing and time of possession. Had Ram quarterback Dieter Brock known what he was about to endure, he may have asked team physicians to put the kidney stone back in. Running back Eric Dickerson, who was handed the ball only 11 times, could sue the Ram offensive line for fraud.

In short, members of the SPCA should have been called as early as halftime, when the Falcons held a 20-0 lead.

Meanwhile, the Falcons were picking away at the Rams as if they were a buffet. Atlanta running back Gerald Riggs earned 123 yards and 3 touchdowns after 41 attempts. None of the yards came particularly easy--his longest run was 12 yards--but they came, nonetheless. Quarterback Dave Archer kept completing short passes to his wide receivers and the Atlanta offensive line survived the loss of a third starter. By game’s end, only center Jeff Van Note remained at the position in which he began the season.

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Next, and with minimal prodding, the Falcons also offered their analyses of the suddenly bumbling Rams. It is another perk of victory.

Said Rick Bryan, an Atlanta defensive end: “They’re in a situation right now where a lot of them in their mind said, ‘Hey, we’re 8-0 and we just about got the division wrapped up. The Falcons are 1-and-whatever, New Orleans hasn’t done nothing and San Francisco is having a hard time. Hey, we can start protecting each other and go into the playoffs healthy.’ But then you start letting up a little bit and the next thing you know, you’ve lost three games in a row. When you start thinking you’re too good, that’s when you start getting beat.

“They didn’t play like they were the best team in the division today, I can tell you that,” Bryan said. “They’ve got a good ballteam and they’ll represent our division well, there’s no doubt about that. But they’re at the point where they’re so far ahead of everybody that they don’t feel like they got to take the chances or do some of the things they did earlier in the year.”

The Falcons were full of opinions. They traced the Rams difficulties to Dickerson, then the offensive line and even allowed that Brock’s one-week absence may have contributed to the easy Atlanta win. They said the Rams invited short passes and were unable to take advantage of an injured Atlanta offensive line. Most surprising is a statement from Falcon defensive tackle Mike Pitts.

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“Our biggest worry was they’re passing game,” said Pitts.

The Ram passing game?

Surely Pitts had overlooked Dickerson by accident.

"(Henry) Ellard,” said Bryan, quite sure of his sentence. “He’s a good receiver. He’s the one who hurt us when we played them out in Los Angeles”

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Reminded of Dickerson, Pitts said: “The guy’s human. He’s not having a year like we normally know Dickerson to have. It’s been a bad year around the NFL, so you can’t just say he’s not playing well and he’s not any good.”

“His line isn’t blocking,” said linebacker David Frye, who had been eavesdropping. “And our defensive line kind of stalemated them.”

Despite the 20-point lead at halftime, the Falcons expected the Rams to try Dickerson again and again. Instead, he carried the ball only four more times.

“I was kind of surprised they didn’t run him more during the second half,” safety Scott Case said. “I guess they felt they were down. But he’s the kind of guy who makes and helps your passing game.”

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Perhaps no one understood Dickerson’s plight better than Riggs, who said he was somewhat inspired by the Ram running back’s presence Sunday. “Oh yeah, that’s the cream of the league right there,” he said. “He’s been struggling a little bit but I think that’s because he came in a little late. You better believe somewhere down the line he’s going to pick it up.

“This is the first time I’ve really stopped to think about it a little bit and say, ‘Hey, I’m on the same field with a guy who gained 2,000 yards last year,’ ” Riggs said.

Riggs wasn’t aware he had carried the ball 41 times, an Atlanta team record and only two behind the NFL record shared by Tampa Bay’s James Wilder and then-New York Giant Butch Woolfolk. He appeared confused when teammate Dave Archer offered his congratulations. Later, when reminded of Dickerson’s 11 attempts Riggs said: “I know for a fact what he’s going through right now. Somewhere along the line Eric Dickerson, being the person I think he is, is going to come out like a house of fire. He didn’t really get a chance to start out like he wanted to . . . and he’s still not putting out the way he wants to. It can become frustrating. Sometimes you have to go with it.”

Riggs leads the NFL in rushing with 1,138 yards while Dickerson has gained 685 yards.

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There were other observations. Frye added that he thought Brock may have been bothered by his brief layoff. “He was throwing the ball pretty good, but sometimes when you’re off, it can affect your timing. I think the missed week may have thrown his timing off a little bit.”

Archer was pleasantly surprised by the reluctance of the Ram defense to discourage the short passes. “You’ve got to keep taking those until they try to take it away,” said Archer, shrugging his shoulders, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. “We neutralized them by taking little shots here and there. It keeps them off balance.”

Added Pitts, when asked to explain the Ram performance: “You can’t explain it. Just say they weren’t there today.”


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