Houston QB Chandler Suddenly Passing Fancy
Elfin, David, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Only four NFL passers have quarterback ratings of more than 100. Green Bay's Brett Favre, Miami's Dan Marino and by now, Indianapolis' Jim Harbaugh, are no surprise. But the fourth is Houston's Chris Chandler, who wasn't even supposed to be a starter at this point.
Chandler began the season with the second-worst record (22-36, .379) of any quarterback who had started more than 10 games. Chandler, a third-round draft pick out of Washington in 1988, led Indianapolis to a 9-4 record after being pressed into duty during September of his rookie year. The Colts lost their first two games of 1989 to eventual NFC finalists San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Chandler suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game.
Before Chandler could get his job back, he was traded to Tampa Bay so Indianapolis could draft local hero Jeff George. While the Colts went through a 1-15, 9-7, 4-12 roller-coaster ride with George, Chandler bounced from the Bucs to the just as woeful Cardinals and then to the Rams. Despite a solid 1994 season with Los Angeles - seven touchdowns, two interceptions, 93.8 rating - Chandler was viewed as a backup or at best a short-term starter when he became a free agent the next winter.
That's how Houston saw Chandler after signing him and then taking Alcorn State's record-setting passer, Steve McNair, with the third pick in 1995. Chandler didn't buy that thinking. He threw 17 touchdowns vs. just 10 interceptions and started all 13 games when he was healthy.
The Oilers won just five of those 13 games, but this year they're 2-1 heading into Sunday's showdown at Pittsburgh for the AFC Central lead. And Chandler's a big reason with six touchdowns and just one interception and a 103.8 rating.
"Chris has been phenomenal this year," Oilers offensive tackle Irv Eatman told the Houston Chronicle. "I've been telling him he's unconscious, and I don't want anybody to wake him up."
Meanwhile, George, who transferred from Purdue to Illinois, had pouted his way out of his hometown and gone to Atlanta for two No. 1 picks and a No. 3. George had his two best seasons in 1994 and '95 and led the Falcons to the playoffs last year, but when coach June Jones benched him as Atlanta was falling to 0-3 last Sunday night against Philadelphia, George screamed at Jones on the sideline.
Jones suspended his quarterback the next day, and George told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he's convinced Jones' move was "pre-ordained" and went on to blast the organization. So Atlanta is shopping George, 28, to such pass-poor teams as Arizona, Oakland, the New York Giants and St. Louis.
While the winless Falcons head to San Francisco without me-first George to meet the 49ers, who will be fired up after getting embarrassed by Carolina, the never-complaining Chandler will be playing in his biggest game since the Reagan administration.
TRIVIA TIME - Which active NFL quarterback with at least 40 starts has the best record? (Answer below.)
SAVING GRACE - Coach Jim Mora would ordinarily be in big trouble with New Orleans at 0-3, but he has built up some chips with owner Tom Benson over 11 years, the longest tenure of any active coach.
Mora has guided the Saints to their only five winning records and four playoff berths in their 29 seasons. New Orleans' 91-68 regular-season record during the past decade under Mora was the NFL's fifth-best. And Benson knows Mora brought the Saints back from starts of 1-3 in 1994 and 0-5 last year to finish at 7-9. …