ATLANTA — Five games into the schedule, the Atlanta Falcons already are talking about next year, dwindling home attendance, moving to Jacksonville, Fla., and the only respectable birds in town--the Hawks.
It's early October, yet still the Falcons must crane their necks skyward to find the competition in their division. For Atlanta (1-4), it has taken only 5 games to fall 3 games out of first place, which is about the way the Braves played it, right?
The difference this season is that the Falcons, who play host to the Rams today, actually had something going here until Sept. 25, when the two players they absolutely could not afford to lose--quarterback Chris Miller and tailback Gerald Riggs--both went down with injuries in a 6-point loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Miller hurt an ankle, Riggs a knee.
Miller, in his second year out of Oregon, was making the Falcon scouting department look good for a change. Steve Dils, backup quarterback and today's starter, calls Miller "the closest thing to Joe Montana that I've seen since I've been in this league."
Dils, the former Ram, has been around 10 years.
Miller, in fact, led the Falcons to a 34-17 upset of Montana's San Francisco 49ers and kept them close in tough losses to Detroit (31-17), New Orleans (29-21) and Dallas (26-20).
Riggs is the National Football League's second-leading rusher for the past 5 years with 5,606 yards, behind only to the Indianap-olis Colt, Eric Dickerson.
"Those injuries were really tough, heavy blows to take," Atlanta Coach Marion Campbell said. "Especially because we're building a football team around Chris. It's discouraging a little bit, because he needs to see as much as he can see. He's moving us up and down the field. For the first time in a long time, we're able to make long drives."
The news about Miller and Riggs isn't all gloom and doom. Miller may be back in 2 weeks, Riggs soon thereafter.
Neither will be back today, though, which suits the Rams just fine.
Instead of Miller, the Rams get Dils, the player they fed and lost to the league waiver wire, shedding few tears in the process.
Instead of Riggs, the Rams get free agent John Settle, a tough runner--he leads the NFL with a 5.8 yards-a-carry average--from Appalachian State.
But as Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen might say, he's no Gerald Riggs.
Without Miller and Riggs, the piston and rings of the offense, Atlanta takes the shape of the same old Falcons, a team that does more things wrong with the ball than right. Indeed, the Falcons are minus-5 in the takeaway/giveaway department, a statistic more and more NFL coaches are referring to these days.
The Rams are plus-7 in the category, so it stands to reason they are 4-1.
"I'm real sure we could have had some wins had it not been for the giveaway factor," Campbell said. "We're on the negative."
And if there's one thing the Rams need after last week, it's a break in the action. The Rams are still stinging from their 41-27 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals, a blow to the celebrated Eagle defense.
After yielding 519 total yards to quarterback Neil Lomax and friends, the Ram defense fell from 10th to 16th overall.
"One good rotten game will do that to you," linebacker Mel Owens said. "Five-hundred yards and 41 points. We never stopped them, run or pass. We didn't do it."
The Falcons drew just only 28,619 fans for last week's 31-20 loss to Seattle at Fulton-County Stadium. . . . Steve Dils, former Ram quarterback, replaced Chris Miller last week and completed 18 of 32 passes for 266 yards in a 31-20 loss to Seattle. He threw 2 interceptions. . . . Ram defensive tackle Gary Jeter is expected to return today after missing last week's game against the Cardinals with knee and ankle injuries. . . . Vince Newsome and guard Mike Schad have been put on the 1-game inactive list against the Falcons . . . Michael Stewart will start at strong safety for Newsome, who has a pinched nerve. . . . Fred Stokes, who is suffering from an ankle injury, was put on the injured reserve . . . The Rams activated running back Charles White. . . . The Rams have lost their last 3 games in Atlanta, counting last year's strike loss to the Falcons. The Ram quarterback in that game was Dils.