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Pro Football / WEEK 15 : Rams May Have Hands Full With Atlanta : After Slow Start, Falcons on Road to Respectability

Times Staff Writer

Now that the Rams have washed a little 4-game losing streak out of their hair, it’s on to better things, such as the Atlanta Falcons, 33-0 losers to the Rams in each of the last 2 meetings.

The Rams have certainly had their kicks on this Rout 66, but the Falcons seem to have taken a new direction since the Oct. 9 bashing in Atlanta.

Their 5-9 record doesn’t suggest it, but everything else does. Quarterback Chris Miller, injured and out of the first game against the Rams this season, is back, and he’s ready to slay giants. So is tailback Gerald Riggs.

Linebacker Aundray Bruce, the No. 1 draft pick who was out-played by former Auburn teammate Kevin Greene of the Rams in October, is finally putting up some first-round numbers--60 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 interceptions.

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The Falcons, with Miller, have beaten two teams the Rams couldn’t--San Francisco and Philadelphia. They gave San Diego a better game, losing 10-7. So who’s the underdog here? The Falcons have won 4 of their last 6 games; the Rams have lost 4 of their last 5.

The Falcons had the Cowboys on the ropes at Dallas and lost. Same with the New York Giants. The Giant loss cut the deepest, because Miller was injured late in the game and it was third-string quarterback Hugh Millen, the former Ram, who had the interception that was returned for a game-winning touchdown in the final minutes.

But the Falcons, even with that Oct. 23 loss, sensed they were turning the corner.

“The guys saw how well we played against New York, even though we lost it,” Coach Marion Campbell said. “We were comfortably in control of the game until the end, when Chris got hurt. People thought we were going to hang our heads after that, but we proved to ourselves we could step in and play against the big boys, so to speak.”

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So, in step the Rams, a team that desperately needs a victory today to stay in the playoff race. Yet, a raucous Monday night victory over the Bears and the prospect of facing the 49ers next week could reduce the Rams to dead meat in an emotional sandwich.

Do they think of Atlanta as the team it once was or as the one that now is? Can they rebound from Monday night’s adrenaline rush? Can they look at Campbell and pretend it’s Mike Ditka?

If this Atlanta game is so important, why did it fall 20,000 tickets short of selling out before Thursday’s 1 p.m. television blackout deadline.

Tailback Greg Bell, who rushed for 100 yards against the Falcons in the first quarter last time out, said he promises to take the Falcons quite seriously.

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“This is the most important game of the year,” he said. “And we can see it on film. This is not the same team they were earlier in the year. Their young players have matured and are ready to play. What happened the first time can happen again. It wasn’t a fluke. But we plan to make it a physical game.”

And Bell said that the Falcons are obviously a different team with Miller, the second-year quarterback who missed almost a month of the season with an ankle injury.

“They seem to get up pretty good with Miller,” he said.

Campbell has noticed the same thing. He said that Miller has brought a strong arm and a change in attitude to Atlanta.

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“No. 1, you feel like you can win with him.” Campbell said. “Two, there’s the future. They look at him as the future, and that’s really comforting for players to know that you’re going to have a quarterback that’s going to be special down the road.”

Miller hasn’t been afraid to open his mouth, either. He has been vocal about the deplorable field conditions at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and is a strong advocate for moving the franchise out of town.

“I like playing (at Anaheim),” Miller said. “The weather’s normally good, and you’ve got nice grass fields. Ours here is awfully brutal. It’s fun to get away from that because it’s like playing on a roller coaster with divots. I mean, it’s bad. My grade-school field back up in Oregon was better than our football field here.”

But what about those choice season seats, Chris?

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“Our 50-yard-line seats I think are 51 yards away from the sidelines.”

Ram Notes

People are still wondering where the Falcons came up with running back John Settle, who needs 71 yards to become the first free-agent runner to rush for 1,000 yards since the leagues merged in 1970. Settle is in his second season from Appalachian State, which is in Boone, N.C. Falcon Coach Marion Campbell can’t believe Settle wasn’t drafted, even by Atlanta. “The guy is a fine football player,” Campbell said. “It’s amazing we don’t see those things when we’re out scouting.” Settle only got a chance to start this season because of an injury to Gerald Riggs. . . . Atlanta is 2-0 on the West Coast this season, having defeated the 49ers and Raiders. . . . Atlanta’s Pro Bowl guard, Bill Fralic, is doubtful for today’s game because of a knee injury. . . . Ram linebacker Mark Jerue (knee) is questionable again this week and could wind up inactive for the third straight week.


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