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Petrino left with another QB decision

POSTED: November 24, 2007 5:21 a.m.

ATLANTA — Joey Harrington was sixth in the NFC in completion percentage and had led the Atlanta Falcons to two straight wins when he was benched by coach Bobby Petrino for the start of Sunday’s 31-7 loss to Tampa Bay.

It’s little wonder Harrington bristled when asked if he felt he had made a case for reclaiming the starting job after he completed 16 of 20 passes with the Falcons’ only touchdown pass in relief of Byron Leftwich.

"I’m not trying to make a case to start," Harrington said. "I’m trying to do a job for this team. Coach has made his decision. My job is to be ready for this team whenever I’m needed. If that means to start, then I’ll start. If it means to back up and be ready to play, that’s what I’ll do as well. I want to play for this team."

Leftwich threw two interceptions and lost one of his two fumbles. A combination of too little protection by the offensive line and holding the ball too long doomed Leftwich, who was 15-of-28 passing for 106 yards and was sacked three times before he was pulled in the third quarter.

If Falcons fans have a vote, Petrino will start Harrington in Thursday night’s home game against Indianapolis. Fans began booing Leftwich in the second quarter. They chanted "Joey! Joey!" and cheered when Harrington came in the game.

Then again, the chant might have been "Byron! Byron!" if Harrington had been the starter in the lopsided loss.

The only remaining quarterback option for the Falcons (3-7) is Chris Redman, and why not? Redman is a perfect 1-for-1 passing this season, and at this point Petrino might be ready for an unsoiled starter.

The more likely scenario is that Petrino sticks with Leftwich, though the coach was clearly disappointed in Sunday’s performance. Leftwich started after missing two games following ankle surgery.

The ankle held up, but Leftwich spent too much time on the ground and too much time making decisions.

Leftwich, the former Jacksonville starter, was making only his second start and third appearance for Atlanta after signing with the team on Sept. 18.

Petrino said Leftwich had no grace period for the time he missed since hurting his ankle on Oct. 21 against New Orleans.

"I wouldn’t say a grace period," Petrino said, adding it was a "staff decision" to start Leftwich.

"We felt that with the way he practiced and moved around that he should start," Petrino said.

Petrino said drops by receivers and lack of protection hurt Leftwich.

"We have a lot to evaluate and look at over the next few days," Petrino said.

"I don’t think you can always put all the blame on the quarterback."

Harrington was disappointed to lose the starting job but said he also was unhappy to see fans turn on Leftwich so quickly.

"It’s not a fair game or a fair league in the sense a quarterback gets too much blame and too much credit," Harrington said. "That’s the name of this game. It’s not a situation that anybody wants to be in."

After early boos for Leftwich, the Georgia Dome video board showed Harrington on the sideline. The boos quickly turned to cheers, but Harrington looked angry as he shook his head in disapproval.

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

Leftwich noted he thought the boos came too early, but he had to agree with the negative review of his play.

"We just didn’t play well today. I didn’t play well," Leftwich said.

"This is really unacceptable, especially in your own house. ... 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."


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