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THE NFL / 1996

There's Finally Reason to Cheer for Atlanta

NFC: Falcons defeat Panthers, 20-17, behind Anderson's big day for long-awaited victory.

November 04, 1996|From Associated Press

ATLANTA — Cornelius Bennett collapsed face down on the turf, his hands patting the ground in childlike joy.

The Atlanta Falcons had won a game. Finally.

"It's been a long time coming," said Bennett, who signed with the Falcons during the off-season and never imagined it would take until Sunday for his first victory, 20-17, over the Carolina Panthers.

"You don't know the joy I have inside of me right now," Bennett said. "It's just an unbelievable feeling, knowing that all the hard work we've put in is finally paying off."

Atlanta, the last winless team in the NFL, lost its first eight games. But Jamal Anderson rushed for a career-high 109 yards and the maligned Atlanta defense shut down Carolina after Kerry Collins went out because of an injured knee early in the third quarter.

The Falcons avoided the worst start in franchise history, an 0-9 beginning in 1966.

Even playing the NFL's worst team did not cure Carolina's woes on the road. The Panthers seemed to fall apart after Collins went out early in the third quarter after a late hit by Chuck Smith.

Collins, who completed 14 of 21 for 221 yards, remained on the turf for several minutes before hobbling off. He re-strained the same left knee ligament that caused him to sit out one game and parts of two others earlier this season.

Collins, whose status for next week is uncertain, accused Smith of "trying to end people's careers. There's no room for it. It was cheap, cheap, cheap."

Smith, who came around the end low to the ground before clipping Collins from behind, said there was no way he could avoid Collins.

"It's unfortunate that Kerry got hit," Smith said. "You can tell him right now that I didn't mean to hurt him. But it's a tough sport."

Steve Beuerlein took over at quarterback with the Panthers trailing, 13-10, and immediately gave away a scoring chance. On third and one at the Atlanta two-yard line, he stumbled after taking the snap, got up and fumbled on a hit by Clay Matthews. Dan Owens recovered for Atlanta at the 10.

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