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Bad week comes to an ugly end

POSTED: November 28, 2007 5:04 a.m.

ATLANTA — The week started with a 24-point loss at the Georgia Dome. Then Michael Vick turned himself in to begin serving an expected prison sentence. Finally, there was another loss at home, this one an 18-point blowout.

No, it wasn’t a good week for the Atlanta Falcons.

Over the space of five days, the Falcons (3-8) had whatever glimmer of hope remained this season totally snuffed out. They are assured of a non-winning season, the 32nd in their 42-year history.

"We’ve got to find things we’re good at, and see if we can end the season on a positive note," tight end Alge Crumpler said.

Going into last Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, the Falcons were on a two-game winning streak and actually had a chance to close within a game of first place in the weak NFC South. But the first-place Buccaneers romped to a 31-7 victory.

The next day, Vick surprisingly showed up at a Virginia jail to begin serving time for his crimes, even though he won’t be officially sentenced until Dec. 10. Of course, the April discovery of a gruesome dogfighting operation on property owned by the Falcons quarterback was the actual starting point of this lost season.

Finishing off the 1-2-3 punch, the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts bounced back from an early deficit to rout the Falcons 31-13 on Thanksgiving night, a performance that didn’t exactly cast rookie coach Bobby Petrino in a positive light.

Atlanta jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, using plays scripted by Petrino and his offensive staff. But the Falcons failed to make any noticeable adjustments the rest of the way, managing just 92 yards in the second half.

Also, Petrino admittedly made a big mistake when he failed to make a timely challenge to a long pass completion that might have been out of bounds in the second quarter.

Peyton Manning went deep on a 32-yard pass to Anthony Gonzalez, but the replay showed only one foot clearly coming down in bounds. By the time Petrino threw his red flag to make a challenge, Manning already had hustled to the line and snapped the ball.

"I was talking with the quarterback about what to do on the next series," Petrino said. "Then they flashed the replay up on the board and I heard the coaches upstairs yelling (over his headset), ‘He’s out! He’s out!’ I had one little second to react and throw the flag. I blew that one."

Two plays later, Manning tossed his third touchdown pass of the quarter, giving the Colts a 21-13 halftime lead.

Game over.

In Petrino’s defense, the offensive line is an injury-depleted mess. They’ve already lost left tackle Wayne Gandy for the season and the other starting tackle, Todd Weiner, didn’t play against the Colts because of an ailing knee. There was a third unplanned starter on the line when D’Anthony Batiste made his first appearance of the season, starting at right guard in place of ailing Kynan Forney.

"We’re a little beat up," Petrino said. "We’re not able to sustain pass protection. I thought in the early going, we were doing a decent job of it. We were chipping, we had everybody involved. The tight ends were involved, the running backs were involved. But we had a couple of guys who haven’t played a lot. It looks like they fatigued a little bit. Maybe they’re not in good enough game shape."

Of course, Petrino also expected to have Vick at quarterback when he took this job back in January. Instead, the options are Joey Harrington, who failed to hold starting jobs at Detroit and Miami, and Byron Leftwich, who was cut by Jacksonville and can’t seem to make it through a full game without getting hurt.

The Falcons have tried twice to make the switch to Leftwich, but he’s been injured both times. Leftwich couldn’t play against the Colts because of an ailing tailbone, but he’s got 10 days to recover before the next game at St. Louis.

Harrington, who led the Falcons to their brief winning streak, looked awful against Indianapolis. He completed just 14 of 30 passes for 155 yards with two interceptions.

"This one hurts because of how well we started," he said.

Now, it doesn’t really matter how they finish.



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