Losing four of five games is bad enough, but things are getting worse with the Falcons internally.
The key veterans, who held the team together for months during the Michael Vick dog-fighting controversy, are starting to question their value with the new coaching staff. That doubt is prompting a lack of faith in what head coach Bobby Petrino is trying to instill and a cocktail for trouble is brewing.
Compounding things is the unsettled footing at quarterback (as if this team needed anymore problems at that position).
Petrino pulled starter Joey Harrington in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 20-13 loss at Tennessee in favor of No. 3 quarterback Byron Leftwich. Leftwich's eventual insertion was expected at some point after he was signed three weeks ago, but not in the heat of a highly competitive game and not before Leftwich had taken a snap in practice with the first team.
Petrino has named Harrington the starter for the Falcons' Oct. 15 game vs. the New York Giants, but Leftwich has been elevated to the No. 2 spot and is thisclose to taking over for Harrington should he falter.
"It's in our best interest and gives us our best chance to succeed to stay with Joey," Petrino said. "He understands our offense. He knows what we want to do, what we want to execute."
Leftwich will get a heavy dose of work with the first-team offense this week to familiarize himself with the game plan and the personnel.
The decision to insert Leftwich at such a pivotal point of the game was one of many that were questioned by players. Tight end Alge Crumpler unloaded after the game.
"When we cross the 50, we're the worst offense in the NFL," Crumpler said. "Johnny Stockton. Great passer. Great assist man. We were missing layups."
Crumpler's most stinging remarks drew a rebuke Monday morning from Petrino, who spoke with the four-time Pro Bowler about going public with his concerns.
"This is a young guys' game we're playing now," Crumpler said. "It's being taken out of our hands. It's being taken out of the veterans' hands. When we get into situations, we're not being given opportunities.
"It just seems like the agenda that we have offensively is preparing the guys that we have in this locker room for the future. I'm not saying the coach isn't trying to win the game but there seems to be too much going on."
Countered Petrino: "There's one agenda here by the coaching staff and that's to win every week, win the game that we're playing this week. That's it. That's what we're trying to do. We don't like to put things like that in the press," Petrino said. "I'd rather him walk into my office if he had something to say."
LT Wayne Gandy's career probably is over after the 14-year veteran suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee late in the loss at Tennessee. Gandy had an MRI exam Monday morning and likely will have surgery in a week to 14 days. Gandy played in 212 games with the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. Undrafted rookie Renardo Foster will take his place.
RT Todd Weiner had an MRI exam on his problematic left knee Monday. No diagnosis was provided but the rock-solid Weiner has been bothered by chronic discomfort and typically has to miss at least one practice a week to be ready to play on Sundays. Weiner had to sit out for most of the game vs. Tennessee but returned for the final offensive play after Gandy was forced out. If Weiner were out, second-year tackle Quinn Ojinnaka would step in.
Outside linebacker Michael Boley leads the NFL in tackles. By league count, he was 38. The Falcons, after film breakdown, have him with more than 50. By official count Sunday, Boley had a game-high 14 tackles as well as an interception.
There could be a ruling by arbitrator Stephen Burbank this week in the arbitration hearing in which the Falcons are seeking to recover $20 million in bonus money from suspended quarterback Michael Vick.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
RB Jerious Norwood might not be getting the touches he'd like from the backfield but he's making up for things returning kickoffs. Norwood returned three kicks for 144 yards vs. the Titans, including a 76-yarder. He is averaging 30.8 yards per return.
DT Rod Coleman, who has not played this season after separate right thigh and knee operations, will be ready to play Oct. 15 vs. the Giants. Coleman practiced three times last week but coach Bobby Petrino said Coleman looked limited with some of his movements.
Backup TE Dwayne Blakley (pectoral) was held out of the Titans game but he is expected to be healthy enough to face the New York Giants.
P Michael Koenen also is Atlanta's field-goal kicker on attempts outside of 47 yards. He has a big leg but he's four of 13 in his three-year career. Koenen missed two attempts vs. the Titans.
REPORT CARD VS. TITANS
PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Joey Harrington had his worst game (16 of 31, 87 yards, one interception) and got pulled. Byron Leftwich played the fourth quarter and was equally as ineffective (two-for-eight, 28 yards, one INT). Both took beatings because of terrible protection and very few play calls to advance the ball downfield.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- It was going to be tough sledding against a stout front but the offensive line was totally overwhelmed. Atlanta's longest run came from Artose Pinner (49 yards) on a fake punt. Take that total away and the Falcons mustered a measly 50 rushing yards.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- Good pressure and good coverage led to three interceptions, two combined by linebackers Demorrio Williams and Michael Boley.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus -- Great adjustments and penetration by the front four limited Vince Young and crew to 92 yards (2.9 per carry). Tackles Grady Jackson and Trey Lewis blew up play between the tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- Kick returner Jerious Norwood might be making a case for himself to get to the Pro Bowl. He had three returns for 144 yards, including a 76-yarder. Field-goal kickers Michael Koenen (two misses) and Morten Andersen (one miss) showed that playing outdoors is a little different than in a climate-controlled environment.
COACHING: C-minus -- Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer had his unit ready and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg designed and had his unit perfectly execute a huge fake punt. Head coach/play-caller Bobby Petrino couldn't figure out what he wanted to do offensively, highlighting his tough day by calling a toss sweep that lost eight yards.