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Falcons also deal with the drops

By Compiled by ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000

ATLANTA -- Jamal Anderson and Mike Alstott may commiserate with each other before today's game.

Much has been made of Alstott's propensity for fumbling, but for at least this season, Anderson is having greater woes.

The Atlanta running back has fumbled five times this year, the most by any NFL ball carrier. The thing about Anderson is he usually is a reliable runner. In fact, while he has put the ball on the field five times, he hasn't fumbled since the fourth week of the season, a streak of 88 carries.

Anderson said he doesn't let the problems affect his mental approach.

"Once it's done, it's done for me," Anderson said. "I don't come into the next series going, "Okay, hold onto the ball tighter.' It's not a concern for me. I don't plan on that happening to me at all."

Both Anderson and Falcons coach Dan Reeves said part of the problem is officials have ruled Anderson has dropped the ball when his forward progress has stopped.

RUN, RUN, RUN: Anderson is likely to get plenty of carries against the Bucs because the Falcons are convinced they have to run the ball to win.

Atlanta has not rushed for more than 100 yards in six consecutive games and eight of nine this season. Reeves said his team's struggles are directly related to the inability to get the rushing game going.

"We just haven't played as well as we're capable of playing," Reeves said. "We made some mistakes that cost you and we haven't been able to run the football. The biggest difference in the year we had in '98 is when we played really well, we could run the football.

"Jamal Anderson was carrying the load of the running game, and we just haven't gotten the running game going the way we did and that's put a lot of pressure on you in other areas. Our offensive line has had an awful lot of changes since then, and doesn't have the continuity you need up front."

HOLD THE LINE: Atlanta's linebacking corps has been hobbled by injury. Keith Brooking became the second linebacker in as many weeks to be put on injured reserve.

Brooking sprained his left foot Oct. 1 at Philadelphia, the same game that Duce Staley sustained a season-ending injury. In fact, the two injuries are similar. Brooking has a torn ligament on top of his foot.

Jesse Tuggle went on the IR list last week for the Falcons. While the injuries would seem to make the corps susceptible, Bucs quarterback Shaun King said he's not exactly buying into that theory.

"I think you have to have a respect for everybody you line up against," King said. "I'm a believer that everybody that puts on that jersey has talent and ability. We have to go in and have respect for them, but also know that maybe they have some guys who aren't as familiar with those positions as Tuggle and Brooking were and see if we can go in and take advantage of it."

It may not be that easy. Atlanta did a good job of stifling the Panthers in last week's 13-12 victory without Brooking and Tuggle. The linebackers -- Henri Crockett, Jeff Kelly, Chris Draft and Mark Simoneau -- got help from an improving Falcons defensive line.

"Our defensive line is getting healthier," Reeves said. "We had an awful lot of guys nicked playing, but still being hurt. I think Ed Jasper had his best game and he's getting a little bit stronger each week with his ankle injury. Brady Smith had been out for a while and he seems to be getting stronger with the groin pull that he had. He played a lot better. Travis Hall is still nicked a little bit, but he got better.

"And then those linebackers did a great job of flying to the ball. I was extremely pleased."

HISTORY: Anderson knows what it's like to go against a team that features receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

The two faced each other in high school when Johnson was at Los Angeles' Dorsey High and Anderson was at El Camino Real High in Monterey Park, Calif. Dorsey won but Anderson is quick to point out that Johnson's team also had Sharmon Shah, now Karim Abdul, Chris Mims and former Colts running back Lamont Warren.

"They beat us by a touchdown," Anderson joked. "That punk (Johnson) returned a punt on us, actually."

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