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American Football: Smith puts Falcons in free-fall

THE BEST of the National Football League continued to fall on Monday when the Dallas Cowboys sent the Atlanta Falcons, last season's Super Bowl finalists, tumbling to a 24-7 defeat in Texas.

The four teams who reached the conference championship games last season - Atlanta, Minnesota, the Super Bowl champions Denver and the New York Jets - now have a combined one victory in eight games to open the NFL season and that came when Minnesota beat Atlanta.

It could get worse before it gets better for the Falcons. Quarterback Chris Chandler did not play against Dallas because of a hamstring injury and he was joined on the sidelines by their running back Jamal Anderson after he sprained his knee in the first quarter.

The future is brighter for the Cowboys. Emmitt Smith rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the win, surpassing the Dallas legend Tony Dorsett as the league's fourth all-time leading rusher with 12,783 yards. His two scores stretched his NFL record to 128 rushing touchdowns.