ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons knew they could win with Chris Chandler at quarterback. On Sunday, they finally proved they could win without him.
Even though 44-year-old Steve DeBerg had to take over for the injured Chandler, Atlanta (5-1) matched the best start in franchise history with a 31-23 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
DeBerg threw his first touchdown pass since 1993, while the Falcons' defense chipped in with six points on Eugene Robinson's 25-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"My responsibility was not to lose the football game," said DeBerg, who retired as a player after the '93 season but came back this year. "I really didn't feel like I played as well as I'm capable."
It was good enough for the Falcons, who let out a collective gasp when Chandler suffered bruised ribs and a sprained left shoulder on a sack by Mark Fields with 1:20 to play in the first half.
It was the latest setback in an injury-plagued career that included two concussions, a sprained ankle and bruised sternum last season. He missed two games altogether and parts of four others--and the Falcons lost all six. They are 11-4 when Chandler plays a complete game.
Chandler said he hopes to return Sunday.
DeBerg completed seven of 10 passes for 60 yards after replacing Chandler, who was seven for 10 for 129 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown pass to Tony Martin.
The Atlanta defense stifled the Saints in the second half before a defensive breakdown by rookie cornerback Elijah Williams allowed Keith Poole to get loose for an 82-yard touchdown pass from Billy Joe Tolliver with 3:19 remaining.
The Falcons also started 5-1 in 1986, but lost seven of its last nine games and missed the playoffs.