The bump the Falcons got from the insertion of Byron Leftwich at quarterback has been put on hold for several weeks after he suffered a right ankle injury in Sunday's loss at New Orleans. The good news for Leftwich is that the ailment doesn't appear to be season-ending -- in terms of the actual physical damage.
However, how the Falcons fare in his absence and how many games he misses could determine whether it would be worth bringing him back this season.
Leftwich underwent an MRI exam Monday morning. Coach Bobby Petrino did not disclose the specific injury but said, "I'm hoping Byron's on a timetable that he's back at some point."
Petrino gave no projected timeframe for Leftwich's return.
Should Leftwich be out for a month and the Falcons continue to swoon, they could opt not to rush Leftwich back since the risk of injury might not be worth a victory or two for a non-playoff team. However, Atlanta might want to see him in action for a few games to evaluate whether it wants him back for next season.
Though Leftwich signed a two-year, $7 million free agent deal a month ago, there are options that could make him a free agent after the season. For that reason, Leftwich would want to play as much as possible to showcase himself.
Leftwich might not be the long-term answer, but his initial half of play as a starter was encouraging. He completed 15 of 23 passes for 145 yards and a 9-yard touchdown to emerging wide receiver Roddy White. Leftwich also got players to respond to him, something that happened only in spurts with former starter Joey Harrington.
In fact, once Harrington came in to replace Leftwich, the level of play and functionality of the offense suffered, not so much because of Harrington but because of the players around him.
The Falcons have a wealth of issues to address with their roster, and if Leftwich can show enough to make team officials confident that he could manage things next season while they fortify their roster at nearly every other position, that could be an option.
Then again, there's always the health issue.
Leftwich has never played a full season because of injuries, mainly to his left ankle. Banking on him is a risk. However, he could provide enough security for a season to groom a younger quarterback in Petrino's system.
In the short term, Harrington will step in for Leftwich, and Chris Redman will be the No. 2 quarterback.
--"Neither one of them looked good on film. When you watched the video (Monday) morning, again, not good." -- Coach Bobby Petrino on the leg injuries to QB Byron Leftwich and OT Renardo Foster.
--TE Alge Crumpler missed his first start in 38 games because of left knee and ankle injuries. Crumpler had surgery on his left knee last spring and he aggravated it in the Oct. 15 loss against the Giants. Coach Bobby Petrino said Crumpler does not need another surgical procedure and that rest has been prescribed.
--OLB Demorrio Williams recorded his fifth career interception and second pick of the season against the Saints.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--Rookie OT Renardo Foster suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Saints. Foster had an MRI exam Monday and he was placed on injured reserve. Coach Bobby Petrino did not disclose the results but did mention the likelihood of the Falcons signing players to bolster depth along the lines because of injuries. Foster made his second career start in place of starter Wayne Gandy, who tore the ACL in his left knee.
--OT Quinn Ojinnaka will fill in at left tackle for now, but he is not a long-term answer. Tackle Todd Weiner is expected back from arthroscopic knee surgery in the next few weeks. When he returns, he could re-assume his starting job at right tackle and Tyson Clabo, his replacement, could move to left tackle.
--TB Jerious Norwood broke off his fifth run of at least 30 yards against the Saints. His 30-yard, first-half jaunt was the shortest of his explosive plays. He has three touchdown runs of 67 yards or longer. Norwood, Bobby Mitchell and Elbert Dubenion are the only players in NFL history whose first three touchdown runs exceeded 60 yards.
--PR Adam Jennings is coming off his best game this season. Jennings returned four punts for 37 yards against New Orleans. He also recovered an onside kick.
--With his three field goals at a PAT at New Orleans, PK Morten Andersen raised his NFL records point total to 2,488.
REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Byron Leftwich was able to sense the pressure and deliver passes downfield with regularity. He also was able to establish a much-needed tempo in leading the Falcons to a 13-7 halftime lead. Joey Harrington did some nice things as well, but coach Bobby Petrino didn't trust Harrington to make some of the throws Leftwich made and shifted to a shorter, ball-control game plan.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- With Leftwich throwing deeper routes, the Saints backed off the line of scrimmage, allowing the Falcons to rush for 72 first-half yards. The problem is, they finished with 75. Atlanta only ran the ball nine times in the second half despite not having to play from a significant deficit. Once again, Jerious Norwood (six carries, 38 yards) was underutilized.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- A blown zone assignment led to OLB Michael Boley being matched up with WR Devery Henderson on a 37-yard touchdown pass by the Saints. Atlanta allowed too many third-down catches and failed to generate any type of pressure. Poor tackling at times hurt.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- Facing a non-smash-mouth team played into the Falcons' strengths. They were able to keep Reggie Bush in relative check but got gashed on a 24-yard touchdown run by Pierre Thomas.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Adam Jennings got going in the punt return game, and he recovered a nicely timed onside kick (which the offense squandered).
COACHING: C-minus -- Petrino really took advantage of Leftwich's arm strength by calling some nice passes and interspersing some runs. He pulled back when Harrington entered, and that might have interrupted the flow. His decision not to go for it on fourth-and-13 with 1:58 remaining also prompted some head-scratching.