MIAMI -- After Dan Reeves left the Giants, he went through an evolution . . . wait. Check that. Don't use the "e" word around players who were with Reeves when he was coach of the Giants from 1993 to 1996 and migrated with him to Atlanta. Do so, and a harsh stare will come your way.

These players believe there is no new Dan. No transformation. No sudden spark of offensive genius. His supporters say the man who ran a Giants offense described as archaic by the former Giants wide receiver Mike Sherrard -- "like a Big Ten offense," he said -- ran the same plays then that he does now with the high-scoring Falcons.The coach who kept John Elway bottled up like a well-kept secret for years in Denver, akin to putting a race horse behind a plow, according to Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe, is the same person who now gives quarterback Chris Chandler freedom to call audibles at the line of scrimmage and throw deep downfield.

For those who followed Reeves closely when he was the Giants' coach, he simply looks like a different man. No longer involved in skirmishes with the front office, he looks happier. No longer saddled with what he always thought were average players -- at best -- the Falcons have reached Super Bowl XXXIII.

They have done so with one of the most potent offenses in football. Jamal Anderson rushed for a National Football Conference-best 1,846 yards, Chandler passed for 3,154 yards and in his past six games has a quarterback rating of 118, and the Falcons' two starting wide receivers, Tony Martin and Terance Mathis, caught passes for more than 1,000 yards each.

Reeves runs this offense? The same Reeves who commanded several of the worst offenses in football from 1994 until he was fired after the 1996 season? The same Reeves who ran the ball on first, second and third downs? Believe it, say former Giants players now with him in Atlanta.

The reason Reeves lost with the Giants, they say, is because of bad players at key positions, no team speed and an overall lack of toughness.

"In my opinion, and I know it won't be popular in New York, but to me Dan is the same coach," said Gary Downs, a backup running back for the Falcons who played for the Giants in 1994 and 1996. "It is just that now he has total control. He can bring in the players he wants, run his system. In New York, someone else chose the players, and sometimes they didn't go a very good job.

"The personnel we have now allows him to do different things. We had no speed in New York, now we have wideouts who can fly. I disagree that the offense here is more wide open. The same plays are being called, we didn't have the guys in New York that could play, and we had a quarterback who couldn't throw deep."

The idea of Reeves as an ultraconservative coach was not born in New York. Sharpe said Tuesday that if Denver Coach Mike Shanahan, considered one of the best innovators of the past 10 years, had coached the Broncos instead of Reeves, Elway would own every National Football League passing record.

That is not true, maintain Reeves' Falcons players, especially those with Giants backgrounds. "I don't know what happened in Denver, but I know that Dan was a great coach in New York, and he is a great coach now," said Falcons tight end Brian Kozlowski, who played for Reeves from 1994 to 1996. "This is his fourth Super Bowl. How bad a coach could he have been in Denver or New York or anywhere?"

Downs gave an example of how Reeves has not changed since the Giants. Two running plays used in Atlanta are identical to ones they ran in New York, called "94 outside" and "34 big." In New York, the plays were for Rodney Hampton, the Giants' leading career rusher. In Atlanta, they are run by Anderson, who in addition to possessing great power -- he can squat 600 pounds -- has good quickness. He can zig when his linemen zag, cutting against the grain to find an open spot.

"Rodney was good," Downs said, "but Jamal is like Barry Sanders. That's what I mean. Run the same plays with one guy, you get one set of results. Run the same plays with a Jamal, and you get a whole different result."

Downs added that the Giants lacked toughness. He isn't, however, saying they were soft.

"I don't want to say that, but their players then weren't like our guys," he said. "They weren't tough all the time, I'll just say that."

In the end, Reeves has evolved . . . uh oh, there is that word again.

"The thing about Dan," Kozlowski said, "is that now, unlike in New York, he has a lot of great players to work with."