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Falcons notebook: Fans chant for former starter in midst of game

POSTED: November 23, 2007 5:03 a.m.

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons face a short practice week before playing host to Indianapolis on Thursday night, and that leaves little time for coach Bobby Petrino to pick a starting quarterback.

Again.

Petrino waited until Sunday to announce Byron Leftwich as the starter against Tampa Bay.

Leftwich struggled, throwing two interceptions, losing one of his two fumbles, and taking three sacks. He was 15-of-28 passing for 106 yards when he was pulled in the third period.

Joey Harrington played the rest of the game and led the Falcons to their only touchdown in the 31-7 loss to the Buccaneers. Harrington was 16-of-20 passing for 139 yards with a touchdown pass and no interceptions.

Petrino wouldn’t commit to either quarterback as the starter after the loss.

"I think what we need to do is really look and evaluate this video and really see what gives us the best opportunity as a team to win the football game Thursday," Petrino said. "That’s what we need to do."

Leftwich started after missing two weeks with ankle surgery. The move left Petrino open to second-guessing, because Harrington was benched after leading the Falcons to two straight wins.

"A lot is going to be said that we messed it up a little bit because of chemistry, but if we go out there and execute we don’t care who the quarterback is," said tailback Warrick Dunn.

Fans didn’t wait long to begin booing Leftwich and calling for Harrington.

The boos began after Leftwich fell down while throwing an incomplete pass less than 5 minutes into the second period. On the next play, Leftwich fumbled when sacked and Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber scooped up the loose ball and ran 41 yards for a touchdown, prompting more boos.

Fans reacted when the video board then flashed to Harrington standing on the sideline, prompting Harrington to shake his head in apparent disapproval.

"I would have liked to have seen more support for Byron," Harrington said.

The boos continued when Leftwich came out with the offense for the following series, and soon a chant of "Joey! Joey!" grew louder.

Petrino stayed with Leftwich until he threw his second interception in the third quarter. Leftwich was hit by Tampa Bay defensive end Gaines Adams as he threw, and defensive tackle Chris Hovan caught the loose ball for the interception.

There were cheers when Harrington began warming up on the sideline, followed by the loudest ovation of the day with 4:43 left in the period as he jogged onto the field with the offense.

Leftwich said it was his job to produce points and wins, but he said the second-quarter boos were a surprise.

"Yeah, it happened pretty early, man," Leftwich said. "Things weren’t really going bad."

Leftwich said being taken out of the game in the third quarter "was tough to deal with" but he said he didn’t blame Petrino.

"You’ve got to understand that in this league when things don’t go well like that it’s your responsibility," Leftwich said. "If you don’t go out and put up points as a quarterback in this league, any quarterback, it’s your responsibility. You’ve got to score points and win football games, and I did a poor job of that."

Dunn 26 yards away

Dunn began the day 58 yards away from 10,000 yards rushing for his career. He had 15 carries for 32 yards, leaving him 26 shy of the milestone.

"If you reach a milestone and you don’t win, then to me it’s tough," Dunn said. "You’re happy about it, but you didn’t win. I wanted to win. Milestones happen."

Tight end Alge Crumpler said the team is following the chase for 10,000.

"We really wanted to get him over that 10,000-yard mark, but when you’re behind and you have to throw the football, it’s tough," Crumpler said.

Dunn is trying to become the 22nd back in league history to reach the mark.

Bad day for injuries

The lopsided loss was bad, but the injuries suffered Sunday may be more difficult to overcome.

"We had a lot of injuries, and that hurts," Petrino said.

The injury list includes defensive tackle Trey Lewis (knee), offensive tackle Todd Weiner (knee), defensive tackle Rod Coleman (arm and hand) and backup tight end Dwayne Blakley (neck and head).

The most serious injury may have been to Lewis, a rookie who became a starter after the team cut Grady Jackson.

"I don’t think it’s a good deal," Petrino said, adding the injury "looks serious."

Lewis suffered the injury on the first defensive series.

Coleman returned after hurting his arm in the second quarter.

Also, defensive end John Abraham limped off the field after appearing to suffer a possible groin injury, but he returned.



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