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Leftwich replaces Harrington as Atlanta's starter

POSTED: October 21, 2007 5:07 a.m.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Coach Bobby Petrino named Byron Leftwich to replace Joey Harrington on Wednesday as the Atlanta Falcons' starting quarterback.

Hoping to spark an offense that's struggled without suspended quarterback Michael Vick, Petrino plans to keep Leftwich as his starter for the rest of the season.

"He has a very strong arm," Petrino said of Leftwich. "He throws the ball deep down the field, and he just needs to be able to see it, and I have the confidence that he can put it in there. I think he'll do well."

The decision wasn't difficult for Petrino after the offense failed to score off three New York turnovers on Monday night. The Giants won 31-10, dropping Atlanta to 1-5.

Petrino indicated that Leftwich might have played against New York if he hadn't missed so much practice time with a mild ankle sprain last week.

Overall, the offense has scored just seven touchdowns this year. The Falcons have managed just 33 combined points in four of their five losses.

Leftwich, who went 24-20 as four years with Jacksonville, signed a two-year, $7 million contract last month after his release from the Jaguars.

In his only appearance with Atlanta, Leftwich went 2-of-8 passing for 28 yards and one interception after replacing Harrington in the fourth quarter of a 20-13 loss at Tennessee two weeks ago.

The Falcons are 0-3 in the NFC entering their Week 7 trip to New Orleans (1-4). Only St. Louis, at 0-5, has a worse conference record than Atlanta, but Petrino believes his team can still gain ground with a 0-1 record in the NFC South.

Petrino has seen enough of Harrington, whose statistics are respectable with a 63.1 completion percentage and a passer rating of 80.1, but the offense continues to languish.

"That's the big part of it," Petrino said. "We need to make a change and get something going."

One of the primary reasons Petrino left Louisville for the Falcons was a chance to work with Vick, but the former superstar quarterback never made it to training camp.

Vick pleaded guilty in Virginia two months ago to federal charges of bankrolling a dogfighting ring.

In 65 games as the starter, Vick led Atlanta to 39 victories and two playoff appearances. He last year became the first NFL quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

Harrington, who signed as Vick's primary backup after the Falcons traded Matt Schaub to Houston, is 24-48 in his career.

Petrino decided in a staff meeting on Tuesday to bench Harrington and go with Leftwich.

"I brought them both in early this morning and met with them," Petrino said. "I wanted to make sure Joey knew first, then I brought Byron in."


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