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The resurgent Falcons' playoff hopes are as fragile as their QB

The Chandler File

Born: Oct. 12, 1965, Everett, Wash.

Resides: Alpharetta, Ga.

Size: 6'4", 225 lbs.

Career: Indy thought it had a third-round steal in '88, grabbing a guy with size, poise and smarts. The Colts went 9-4 with Chandler starting. Then the All-Rookie blew out his knee. Over the next eight years, bad teams, injuries and attitude made Chandler a starting QB vagabond for a record six teams-Colts, Bucs, Cards, Rams, Oilers and Falcons.

Peace of Mind

Chris Chandler's epiphany came in 1991. He was an angry young man who had all the answers when he got to Phoenix midseason, says Jerry Rhome, his QB coach with the Cards and later in Houston. "He felt like he had been jerked around by all the teams he played for, he didn't trust anyone, he wasn't coachable," Rhome says. "He was running the streets a little." At the end of the season, Rhome got in Chandler's face. "I told him he didn't know how to play quarterback, that I could teach him, but not if he continued acting like he was." Rhome closed with a threat: "You don't change your attitude, I'll recommend you not be brought back." Chandler was PO'd. But three weeks later, he asked to see Rhome and said, "Teach me."

Strong-Armed

Chandler's arm strength? "Not a 100 mph fastball, but a 95 mph fastball," says Jack Burns, Atlanta's QB coach. Though he doesn't live on the long bomb, he hits the deep sideline and post routes with accuracy and authority. "I think he's good enough to be a Super Bowl quarterback," says head coach Dan Reeves. "I'd rank him right below Roger Staubach, John Elway and Phil Simms. He's not their equal yet because he hasn't been there."

Stomach the Pressure

Chandler can't scramble like Elway, but he's not afraid to travel out of the pocket to buy his receivers time.When he does, there's no panic, no hurried throws into traffic, which is one thing his teammates love about him. His flat-out cool, though, will sometimes lead him to keep looking for something to open up, even as he confronts a charging lineman. In Carolina in the season opener, rookie tackle Ephraim Salaam missed a block, giving Kevin Greene an open lane into the backfield. Chandler saw Greene coming all the way, but refused to get rid of the ball and give up on making a play. He pump-faked, tucked the ball in at the very last second and was flattened by Greene. Sometimes, Reeves says, he's too courageous.

Roll the Bones

Chandler's been batted around more than the Mariners' bullpen, earning him the unfortunate moniker "Crystal Chandelier." His career-spanning litany of bumps and scrapes includes a knee injury, mononucleosis, concussions, a sprained ankle and a bruised sternum. No one likes to be called brittle, but Chandler's health will always be a legitimate concern for a team with Tony Graziani (1997 QB rating 3.7) and ancient Steve DeBerg as backups. Last year was the first time Chandler started as many as 14 games in a season. But he'll try to convince you that missing so many games is actually a blessing. "I'm a young 11-year vet," he says.

Head Honcho

Atlanta has been to the playoffs just twice this decade and not since 1995. Getting there this year depends in large part on Chandler's mental toughness, something ex-Falcons Bobby Hebert, Chris Miller and Jeff George just didn't have enough of. Teammates didn't have much respect for Chandler when the 1997 Falcons started 1-7. But the truth was, Chandler wasn't in the lineup much. When injuries caused him to leave four games and miss two others, the Falcons lost all six. But he was healthy the last eight games, leading Atlanta to a 6-2 mark. H e earned the respect of his teammates, and Reeves started to believe he had a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.

Laser-Eyed

Chandler sees the field well and thinks fast, says Reeves. He makes decisions while backpedaling that other QBs can't make until they settle into the pocket. Quicker decisions mean he gets rid of the ball faster. That keeps defenses honest. Coaches say he can speed-read defenses and anticipate his receivers well. But his best quality: knowing his limitations. He doesn't try to do more than he can, he takes what defenses give him-and he doesn't gamble.

ShortHanded

The Falcons offensive line has already given up nine sacks in its first two games and has just one player-tackle Bob Whitfield-you'd want to get for your team. The fleet of wide receivers-Terance Mathis, Tony Martin and a cast of no-names-isn't deep. The tight end, O.J. Santiago, is still growing into the position. "They just don't have enough offensive weapons," says ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski. Which puts Chandler's resourcefulness at a premium.

Stat-Padding

For all of Chandler's anonymity (he has yet to be invited to the QB Club or the QB Challenge), his numbers are plastered on or near the top of the QB rankings. Last year, Chandler completed 202 of 342 passes (59.1%) for 2,692 yards, with 20 TDs and 7 INTs (3 in the opener). His QB rating of 95.1 was second only to Steve Young's. He was also the best in red zone efficiency (13 TDs, no INTs, 121.1 rating), and over the past three seasons combined, he's first in third-down situations (97.6 rating).

Father Figure

Chandler grew up the ninth of 10 children. His mother died when he was 19; his father died shortly after he made it to the NFL . For the first time in his life, he was alone. Bouncing from team to team like an orphaned QB didn't help. Two men became influential in his life. Rhome did more than teach him how to be a QB; he taught him how to recapture his passion for the game. Like a surrogate big brother, Rhome brought Chandler home with him, made him compete at cards, billiards, golf, basketball-anything that could turn up the competitive juices. He rebuilt his confidence through his father-in-law, 49ers great John Brodie, who told Chandler that it took him until he was 30 to become a decent quarterback. Brodie told his son-in-law he thought he was a top-five QB in the league right now. Chandler believed him, and says his confidence has been sky-high ever since.