When a team is 3-6, can there really be a quarterback controversy?
With Byron Leftwich closer to being medically cleared to resume practice after ankle surgery, the possibility of him supplanting starter Joey Harrington again was left open Monday by coach Bobby Petrino.
When asked what role Leftwich would play once he's healthy, Petrino twice said that no judgment would be made until Leftwich showed that he could play. He declined to say that Leftwich would back up Harrington or if he would start. Harrington did not receive affirmation of his status, either.
"We've kind of got to wait and see the health of Byron," Petrino said. "There's a lot of things to consider."
Though the Falcons boast a poor record, this could turn into a potentially divisive issue because Harrington and the Falcons have won two consecutive games -- including a victory Sunday over Carolina in which Harrington threw a 30-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Alge Crumpler.
Harrington was pulled in favor of Leftwich three weeks ago after the Falcons had just been waxed by the New York Giants to fall to 1-5. Though Harrington had not played poorly, Petrino felt that something needed to be done, and there was little objection to trying a quarterback who'd won 24 of 44 games he's started with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The move seemed to pay off as Leftwich led Atlanta to a 13-7 halftime advantage at New Orleans and helped open up the offense by throwing the downfield passes that Harrington rarely threw. Things were working better than they had all season until Leftwich suffered a high ankle sprain on the first drive of the second half.
Harrington replaced Leftwich and was unable to generate a touchdown.
In order to get back as soon as possible, Leftwich had damaged ligaments screwed tighter into his right ankle in order to provide immediate and long-term support.
He went through a rigorous rehab workout last week but he did not bounce back as quickly as he'd hoped, prompting the medical staff to curtail the intensity of his workouts. The decision paid off, as he was able to increase his workload through the week. However, he has not done much football related work.
Harrington, meanwhile, has played efficiently enough for Atlanta to score enough points to win. His moderate arm strength, which limits his ability to make certain downfield throws, have curtailed the aggression of Petrino's play-calling.
However, Atlanta has been able to get its running game going to complement him, which has allowed Harrington to effectively manage the offense.
--Coach Bobby Petrino said that the team's wide receivers need to get more yards after they make catches. On third-and-long or third-and-intermediate situations, opponents are allowing underneath throws because they are blitzing and forcing QB Joey Harrington to get rid of the ball quickly.
Too often, after a 5- or 6-yard completion, players are getting tackled before reaching the first-down marker, Petrino said.
--The Falcons are facing a second consecutive blackout for the local television broadcast for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay at the Georgia Dome. More than 1,000 tickets remained unsold Monday. Atlanta had a string of 56 consecutive sellouts snapped two weeks ago vs. San Francisco, and the game was blacked out within a 75-mile radius of downtown Atlanta.
--"I don't think there was any common thread. It's something you don't want to have is a common thread to any false starts." -- Petrino on the Falcons getting flagged for five false-start penalties vs. Carolina.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--TB Warrick Dunn needs 58 rushing yards to reach 10,000 for his career. Fred Taylor, who just eclipsed the mark, and Edgerrin James are the only active players who have surpassed 10,000 rushing yards. Dunn could surpass the milestone Sunday against Tampa Bay, the team with which he came into the NFL.
--WR Joe Horn, who missed last Sunday's game at Carolina with a hamstring injury, is expected to return against Tampa Bay. It is not known if he will reclaim his starting job from rookie Laurent Robinson.
--There was no medical update on the condition of TB Jerious Norwood (sprained right ankle), who missed Atlanta's victory at Carolina.
--Rookie RB Jason Snelling was activated from the practice squad Monday, prompting the release of OLB Travis Williams. Snelling has been cross-trained as a tailback and fullback. There was no comment from the team as to whether his activation was due to TB Jerious Norwood (sprained right ankle) possibly healing slowly.
--Rookie TE Martrez Milner suffered what was initially diagnosed as a high left ankle sprain against the Panthers. He was placed on injured reserve Monday.
REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Coach Bobby Petrino called a controlled, short-yardage attack because Carolina's blitzes didn't give QB Joey Harrington much time to sort through coverages. Harrington completed 19 of 26 passes, including a 30-yard, game-winner to TE Alge Crumpler.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- It was hardly a juggernaut, but the 88 yards gained came on 28 carries -- 26 by TB Warrick Dunn. For the second consecutive week, Dunn carried the load because of an injury to Jerious Norwood. For the second straight week, Petrino committed to running a balanced attack.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Panthers went at rookie RCB Chris Houston, and Houston stepped up. He was solid in man coverage and was very physical when making tackles. DT Rod Coleman applied most of the pass pressure in his best game since returning three weeks ago from knee and thigh surgery.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- Carolina's DeShaun Foster has saved his best games for the Falcons, but Atlanta used a slanting front with a disciplined backside defender to cut off cutback lanes. The result: Foster had 59 yards on 20 carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- PR Adam Jennings made up for some shaky returns with a 23-yarder at the end of the game that set up the game-winning touchdown. Stephen Nicholas sprung him with a crushing peel-back block.
COACHING: B-minus -- Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is allowing his players to play to their strengths. The scheme to shut down Foster forced Carolina's Vinny Testaverde to try to make more plays than he was capable of making. Petrino's decision to ride Dunn paid off once more.