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Harrington returns to Falcons starting role

POSTED: November 25, 2007 5:04 a.m.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Once again, the Atlanta Falcons have named Joey Harrington as their starting quarterback.

It marked the third time since Michael Vick was indicted four months ago on federal dogfighting charges that coach Bobby Petrino has turned to Harrington. Vick began serving his prison term this week.

Petrino, who demoted Harrington in Week 7, had no choice after Byron Leftwich missed practice with a bruised tailbone.

"We took X-rays, and it’s not a fracture," Petrino said Tuesday. "He couldn’t participate at all today."

Harrington will start Thursday night when Atlanta (3-7) hosts Indianapolis (8-2), but Petrino sidestepped a question about his plans for the rest of the season.

"Well, what we’re doing, since this is such a short week, is we’re worrying about the Indy game right now," Petrino said. "We have a little break after that, and we’ll see how everything goes."

Leftwich has struggled to shake the durability problems that led to his release from Jacksonville before the season.

He has missed two games with injuries to his ankles, one of which required surgery last month.

His departure from Sunday’s 31-7 loss to Tampa Bay, according to Petrino, was due to a bruised tailbone rather than a performance that included two interceptions and lost a fumble returned for a touchdown.

Petrino indicated that Leftwich must practice on Wednesday to dress as the No. 2 backup against the Colts. Otherwise, Chris Redman will handle the role.

The Falcons are 3-5 with Harrington as the starter, but the sixth-year veteran helped Atlanta win two straight before Leftwich returned from ankle surgery.

Harrington, who has a 26-48 career record, was crestfallen last week when he learned from reporters that Leftwich would start against the Buccaneers. Even so, Harrington has maintained a stance of never criticizing Petrino openly.

Instead, Harrington still invokes the same "team first" approach he used when the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins benched him earlier in his career. He looks at the proverbial bright side.

"I was very impressed with the way we practiced today because we’re definitely out of our routine and out of the normal week’s schedule," Harrington said. "But we came out and had a very sharp, energetic practice today."

Vick might have struggled, too, with the diluted supporting cast that’s contributed to problems for Harrington and Leftwich. The offense is without several players who either would have started or given the Falcons some depth.

But tackle Wayne Gandy, flanker Brian Finneran, quarterback D.J. Shockley and three rookies, tackle Renardo Foster, guard Doug Datish and tight end Martrez Milner, are out for the season.

Receiver Joe Horn and tackle Todd Weiner are unlikely to play against the Colts. Tight end Alge Crumpler and three-time Pro Bowl running back Warrick Dunn have moved gingerly all season.

For center Todd McClure, the constant shuffling of personnel isn’t exactly making life easy.

"No, but it’s something we’ve dealt with all year," McClure said. "It’s frustrating because you’d like to work with the same guys the whole season, but it’s football, and guys get hurt.



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