ATLANTA — The door is open, the flashing sign says "Exit" and Dan Henning can feel the draft, but the coach of the Atlanta Falcons chooses to ignore the inevitable.
Dave Archer, the young quarterback, is just mopping up the mess the Falcons have made of another sorry season, but he's all bravado and boldness.
Don't they understand their situation? Don't they know they're 1-9 and playing the Rams (8-2), Bears (10-0) and Raiders (6-4) the next three weeks? Doesn't the South know when to surrender?
"I can't think of a situation that would be better to motivate, that gives you an opportunity to test yourself, to evaluate yourself," Henning said.
Or annihilate yourself.
The Falcons' lines have collapsed. Their defense ranks next to worst in the National Football League. Seven weeks ago, the Rams trounced them, 17-6, at Anaheim without really trying. Their new quarterback, less than a marksman, ranks lower in passing than anybody who hasn't been benched already.
But Archer, a free agent from Iowa State, is a Southerner by birth, from Fayetteville, N.C. Henning, born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn, is a Southerner by football. He played quarterback at William & Mary and coached at Florida State and Virginia Tech. Henning refuses to fall on his sword, and Archer is determined to keep firing until the end.
"I'm in a situation where my career is at stake," Archer said. "It's a troubled time here, and I'm a young quarterback (23) trying to establish myself, and if I can't win at this point, I might not get another chance."
Bring on the Rams, the Bears, the Raiders.
Archer said: "If we get down, we're still gonna come after you and we're still gonna hit you in the face."
That attitude concerns Ram Coach John Robinson.
"Atlanta is a physical team," he said. "A physical team that puts anything together can be dangerous."
Case in point: A week ago, the Falcons trailed Philadelphia, 17-0, going into the last quarter, but Gerald Riggs started pounding the Eagles on the ground. The Falcons rallied to tie, missed a field goal at the finish and then lost in overtime on a 99-yard pass play. It was a heartbreaker but not a backbreaker. The Falcons have too much tenacity for that, suh.
"We could have easily folded, but the guys fought back in the fourth quarter and the defense stuffed 'em," Archer said with pride.
Riggs, with 1,015 yards, is the league's second-leading rusher, behind the Jets' Freeman McNeil, who has 1,052.
"You don't want to use corny phrases, but he (Riggs) has got a lot of heart and character," Archer said. "After the loss to the Redskins two weeks ago, the guy has 135 yards rushing, over 200 yards in total offense and leaves the room with tears in his eyes because we didn't win."
There also is a bond between Archer and Henning, who abandoned the crippled veteran, Steve Bartkowski, and staked his career on the untested youngster. Archer certainly can do something Bartkowski never could do--run. He already has established a single-season rushing record for Falcon quarterbacks with 213 yards.
"David shows some inexperience at times," Henning said. "He makes some big plays. He gets better every week."
Archer said of Henning: "He's given me my opportunity, and I'm indebted to him. It's a tough situation."
What's tough is that Henning, a victim of injuries, contract disputes and ill-advised trades, may not be around to support Archer next season. The whole front office faces upheaval, and the Falcons are already thinking about which quarterback--Chuck Long or Robbie Bosco--to select with the league's top draft choice next spring.
"That bothers me, but I've got an opportunity to get some great experience against some great football teams," Archer said. "They're gonna draft somebody. I know that. But I'll be ready for whomever they bring in."
Henning said: "There are groups of players I've been with in 20 years of coaching that I would not like to go through this situation with. This group has come up with some superlative efforts in the face of some great adversity.
"When you're playing an 8 and 2 team, a 10 and 0 team, and a 6 and 4 team, those people think they're pretty good. You start out in the football game with that going for them and against you. This team has not bowed to that. They feel they can win. When we play the Rams, that team has to beat us on that Sunday."
Ram Notes Dieter Brock will start at quarterback after missing one game, the 24-19 loss to the New York Giants, because of surgery to remove a kidney stone. . . . Showers were forecast in Atlanta through today, with the temperature in the low 70s. The field is grass. . . . The Rams' use of their popular (with them) "dime" defense may be restricted because of injuries to safeties Johnnie Johnson (hamstring) and Nolan Cromwell (ankle). Even with the acquisition of veteran Tim Fox three days ago, they have only seven defensive backs on the roster. . . . The Rams lead the league with 36 takeaways, among them 23 interceptions. The Falcons have allowed league highs of 307 points and 23 touchdown passes.