NFC South Hot Topic: Oct. 22

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ATLANTA FALCONS

The Falcons inserted Byron Leftwich as the starting quarterback against the Saints on Sunday because they didn't feel Joey Harrington had done enough to retain the job. Now, Atlanta could be resorting back to Harrington, which might be a bad sign for an already bad team.

Leftwich, who was making his first start with Atlanta, suffered a "high (right) ankle" injury in the third quarter of the Falcons' 22-16 loss to the Saints. Though it is assumed it is a high ankle sprain, it could be more severe since a sprain diagnosis was not mentioned. An MRI exam will be held Monday.

Leftwich was so devastated that he lasted less than a minute at a post-game news conference, leading to speculation that his injury could sideline him for an extended period.

"Right now it's at the point where I'll know more tomorrow," Leftwich struggled to say. "We'll know more tomorrow. I didn't really hear what...It's just. ... We'll know more tomorrow. It's just frustrating man...I can't do this."

Leftwich sprained his right ankle at practice less than two weeks ago but he said it was healed leading into Sunday's game with New Orleans.

This is not the same ankle that caused him problems for years with Jacksonville. That is good and bad because he didn't aggravate any pre-existing problem yet he could have ignited a new one, making him even less durable.

"It's very concerning for the rest of the season," coach Bobby Petrino said. "There's not a lot you can do about that."

Petrino was not only talking about Leftwich's injury.

Left tackle Renardo Foster, an undrafted rookie from Louisville, suffered what appeared to be a serious left knee injury late in the fourth quarter. Foster had replaced starter Wayne Gandy, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee two weeks ago.

The loss of Foster could be devastating because suffering two major injuries at the same place on an already shaky offensive line means things are threadbare. Quinn Ojinnaka is expected to replace Foster. The Falcons signed tackle Harvey Dahl off San Francisco's practice squad last week and he could move into the swing tackle spot.

As for Leftwich, he had played well until getting hurt. His arm strength allowed the Falcons to throw the ball up field, which is something Petrino seemed reluctant to do with Harrington. By attempting longer passes, the Saints could not stack the box with eight defenders and that allowed the Falcons to run the ball with some consistency.

When Harrington relieved Leftwich, the Saints did not respect his long-ball ability and blitzed him far more frequently than they blitzed Leftwich. The strategy paid off as Harrington was sacked twice and hurried at least four times.

PLAYER NOTES

--LT Quinn Ojinnaka, who was drafted last season from Syracuse, is expected to take over at left tackle for the rest of the season. Ojinnaka played the final series of Atlanta's game Sunday vs. New Orleans after Foster got hurt. Ojinnaka was highly regarded by the previous coaching staff because he was a good fit for the cut-blocking zone scheme. However, he fell behind Foster this offseason and was inactive for the first few games because he was not as strong in the in-line blocking scheme used by coach Bobby Petrino.

--CB Jimmy Williams reassumed his role as the free safety in the nickel set and had a strong game against the Saints, breaking up a touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Marques Colston. Petrino said Williams' in-air ball skills have improved to the point where the coaching staff feels secure.

--TE Alge Crumpler has had chronic discomfort in his surgically repaired right knee and was held out of Sunday's game because of an ankle sprain to boot. He is expected to return for Atlanta's game Nov. 4 vs. San Francisco. The Falcons have a bye next week, giving Crumpler additional time to heal.

--WR Roddy White continues to finally live up to his first-round billing. White had eight catches for 110 yards and a touchdown against the Saints, bringing his season total to 33 catches -- a career high. The most receptions White had in his either of his first two seasons is 30.

--First-round draft pick DE Jamaal Anderson is not having the impact the Falcons thought he would. Though he has been relatively solid vs. the run, the No, 8 overall pick does not have a sack. He has also registered just one tackle in each of the past two games.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme underwent successful elbow surgery Oct. 18 at Carolinas Medical Center.

Delhomme's surgery was performed by Dr. Pat Connor of OrthoCarolina, the Panthers team physician.

"Jake underwent a medial ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction this morning of his right elbow and the surgery went well," Connor said. "His postoperative rehabilitation will start soon and he has an excellent prognosis."

The surgery lasted approximately an hour and a half, according to Connor.

Delhomme's recovery period is expected to be seven to nine months, according to his agent, Rick Smith. Smith and coach John Fox have both said they expect Delhomme to be ready for the start of the 2008 regular season.

In the meantime, the Panthers have David Carr and Vinny Testaverde competing for a starting job. Fox has not said who will start when the Panthers return to the field a week from Sunday against the Colts.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB DeShaun Foster will remain the starter despite a career-high 121-yard effort by DeAngelo Williams last week against Arizona. Of Williams' 121 yards, 75 came on one run in the fourth quarter.

--OG Mike Wahle is not expected to miss any time after suffering a mild concussion against Arizona.

--WR Steve Smith looks to turn in yet another solid performance a week from Sunday against the Colts. Smith had 10 grabs for 136 yards with Testaverde running the show last Sunday against the Cards.

--SS Chris Harris is playing like a Pro Bowl safety since being acquired from Chicago. He has three forced fumbles, two recoveries and one interception. He only seems to be getting better every week.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

They're still extremely cautious, as a four-game losing streak to start the season will do, but the Saints are starting to pick up a little momentum as they head into the middle part of their season.

The Saints didn't exactly turn any heads with their first-half performance, but they survived a battle with the Atlanta Falcons in the Superdome and won for the second straight week.

The once-wobbly Saints took advantage of their first win, a 28-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks last weekend, and parlayed that confidence into a 22-16 triumph over the Falcons.

After digging a huge hole for themselves at the outset of the season, the Saints (2-4) are starting to show signs of the 2006 team. Against the Falcons (1-6), they shrugged off a poor first-half performance on both sides of the ball and made some key plays to come out with another win.

Back-to-back plays by running back Reggie Bush with 5:04 to play in the game produced a 4-yard touchdown reception and a two-point conversion run to ignite his teammates and a raucous Superdome crowd.

Bush managed to fight his way in for the touchdown, getting past cornerback Lewis Sanders for the score when it appeared that Sanders would stand him up and make the tackle. Then, Bush needed every bit of his speed to get to the orange pylon for the two-point play that gave the Saints a 22-16 lead.

The score ignited the crowd and rejuvenated a defense that allowed just three points and 124 total yards in the second half after giving up 13 points and 210 yards to the Falcons in the first two quarters.

"That play definitely showed the resolve that this team has played with the last two games," Saints strong safety Roman Harper said. "Reggie wasn't going to stop, he was going to keep going until he got to the end zone.

"It not only helped us, it got the whole crowd and everybody going," said Harper. "We needed a big play like that and he gave it to us."

The important touchdown, which came on third-and-goal, came after the Saints converted two other times on third down. The first came on Brees' short pass to Marques Colston, who spun out of an arm-tackle and scampered 33 yards to the Falcons' 31.

After reaching the 4, Saints coach Sean Payton called for a quick snap and a perfect toss from Brees that allowed Bush to get into some open space to do the thing he does best -- make people miss.

"That was just a play that we run a lot," said Bush. "We were just trying to catch the defense off guard. We didn't want to give them a chance to get set. I think they were still bringing personnel on the field when we were getting set."

"I just wanted to get it to him as fast as we can and let him run for a touchdown," said Brees. "That's exactly what happened. That was a big effort on his part, and obviously, from the guys who were out there blocking for him."

PLAYER NOTES

--C Jeff Faine suffered a left pectoral injury, the severity of which was unknown, in the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons. Faine came back briefly in the first half, but did not return to the field after halftime.

--C/G Jonathan Goodwin took Faine's spot in the lineup and played the entire second half. He will start next week if Faine is unable to go against the San Francisco 49ers.

--RCB Jason David missed his third consecutive game with a fractured left forearm. His return to the field is unknown.

--RCB Jason Craft once again started in place of the injured Jason David.

--K Olindo Mare, who was not able to kick off in the last two games because of a strained groin, resumed those duties against the Falcons. He showed no ill effects from the injury in booming touchbacks that went 5 and 9 yards deep in the end zone.

--WR Robert Meachem, the Saints' top draft pick this spring, was inactive for the sixth consecutive game.

--DE Renaldo Wynn, who has been playing in the defensive line rotation the last three games, was a healthy inactive.


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