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Wednesday, September 11
Falcons' Buchanan suspended four games

Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan, one of the NFL's best, was suspended Wednesday for four games for using steroids despite insisting he took them by mistake.

Ray Buchanan

The league's suspension begins with the home opener Sunday against the Chicago Bears, a rare sellout for the team. Buchanan can have no contact with the Falcons during his suspension, which will last through the Oct. 13 game against the New York Giants.

"Evidently, I took a supplement of some sort that had a steroid derivative in it,'' Buchanan said in a statement.

"Either way, it was my mistake, and I will serve my penalty. I would like to apologize to my teammates, the Falcons organization and the Atlanta Falcons fans. I will learn from this.''

The 30-year-old Buchanan will miss more games during the suspension than he has his previous nine seasons. A third-round draft pick by the Colts in 1993, Buchanan has played 81 games in a row since signing with the Falcons in '97.

Falcons coach Dan Reeves said the league told him last week that Buchanan might have tested positive for steroids. Under league rules, a second test was performed, and it confirmed the results.

The Falcons have already sold out three games at the 71,228-seat Georgia Dome, including the opener. They began the season with an overtime loss at Green Bay.

New ownership and exciting young quarterback Michael Vick have created a buzz in Atlanta that hasn't existed since the 1998 Super Bowl season.

Instead of relishing the moment, the players were stunned by news of Buchanan's suspension after going through a morning walkthrough. Buchanan, a Pro Bowler in 1998, has 27 interceptions over the last five years, tied for the most in the NFL over that period.

"Ray? You're kidding?'' defensive end Patrick Kerney said. "Obviously, it's a shock to everyone.''

The Falcons' defense already has been hurt by injuries at linebacker and on the line. Now, the team must deal with the loss of one of its top coverage players.

"Anytime one of your stars is not playing, it puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the defense,'' said Ashley Ambrose, the team's other starting cornerback.

The Falcons replaced Buchanan by signing cornerback Rodney Heath, who played three seasons with Cincinnati and was waived last week by Carolina.

Juran Bolden, bothered by a cramp in his right hamstring, is expected to start in place of Buchanan.

"Every week, I'm looking to Ray to help me get better,'' Bolden said. "Those are some big shoes to fill, but I've got to do it.''

Buchanan has played 142 of 145 games since entering the league, sitting out three games for Indianapolis with a thigh injury in 1996. He led the team with five interceptions last season and has 43 in his career.

Buchanan re-signed with the Falcons before last season. He received a six-year, $36-million contract that included a team-record $8 million signing bonus.

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