Joey Harrington is back as the Falcons' starting quarterback for Thursday night's game against visiting Indianapolis, but it is unclear if his re-insertion is based on merit or is by default.
In announcing Harrington would start Tuesday, coach Bobby Petrino cited a tailbone injury to Byron Leftwich as the rationale. The starter would be based on whom the staff felt would give the team the best chance of winning, Petrino said after playing both quarterbacks in Sunday's 31-7 loss to Tampa Bay.
However, Leftwich's injury made it an easy choice.
"Joey will start the game," Petrino said. "Byron has to see if he can get ready to be the backup. (Leftwich) came in after the game -- it's a tailbone -- and called (trainer) Ron (Medlin) that night. They took him in (Monday) morning and got X-rays. There was not a fracture."
That Leftwich didn't practice Tuesday took him out of the running to start. He wasn't able to practice Wednesday either, so he'll be the emergency No. 3 quarterback.
This is the sixth quarterback switch with Harrington and Leftwich and the fourth time Petrino has changed starters. Leftwich started at New Orleans and last Sunday's game with Tampa Bay and Leftwich replaced Harrington in the fourth quarter of a 20-13 loss at Tennessee.
Harrington started eight of 10 games and was called on to relieve Leftwich in the third quarter of the most recent loss at Tampa Bay.
Leftwich was unavailable for comment Tuesday. Harrington simply took the high road.
"I'm going to go play ball and do what this team is asking me to do," Harrington said. "Like I said last week if they want me to be the starter I'll be the starter. If they want me to be the backup I'll be the backup. It doesn't change how I go about getting ready for this game. My thought is to go play ball and run this offense."
Petrino was non-committal about whether Leftwich would regain his starting job at St. Louis Dec. 2 if he were healthy. Instead, Petrino said he would focus on the game with the Colts and make a decision afterwards.
14th meeting. Colts lead the series 12-1. This will mark the first time these teams have met since Indianapolis drilled the Falcons 38-7 on Dec. 14 in the RCA Dome. Interim coach Wade Phillips, now Dallas' head coach, was coaching Atlanta during the one-sided loss. Indy's Peyton Manning completed 25 of 30 passes for 290 yards. Edgerrin James rushed for 126 yards against Atlanta.
--The Falcons were decimated by injuries to key players during Sunday's game with the Bucs.
Starting defensive tackles Rod Coleman and Trey Lewis were placed on injured reserve Tuesday, ending their seasons. Coleman sustained a right triceps and right hand injury while Lewis will need surgery on his right knee.
For Coleman, a Pro Bowler two years ago, this season has been more than rocky. He had to have right quadriceps and right knee surgery and was only able to play five games.
--The Falcons had just 66 yards passing in that last game with imprisoned quarterback Michael Vick completing 6 of 19 passes for 47 yards and an interception.
--Colts WR Marvin Harrison is not expected to play Thursday, which could be a break for Atlanta since he reeled in seven receptions for 117 yards in his most recent game.
--The Colts have outscored the Falcons 79-34 the last two times they have played.
--This will mark the sixth consecutive start Falcons quarterback Joey Harrington will make on Thanksgiving. He started four times with Detroit and last season for Miami in a game at Detroit.
BY THE NUMBERS
13.6 -- The points-per-game differential between Indianapolis (27.8) and Atlanta (14.2).
QUOTE TO NOTE
"You don't get to tinker much at all. You've actually got to pull back and focus in on certain things you can execute and do well. You don't get any new reps at practice. The bottom line is both teams are in the same situation. They both have the same amount of time to prepare." -- Falcons coach Bobby Petrino on the short week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Falcons are in a big-time jam. They can't pull strong safety Lawyer Milloy too close to the line of scrimmage in the base defense to help their weakened defensive line because the Colts will throw to his vacated zone.
In order to add more beef but guard against Peyton Manning and Company, Atlanta could use a heavy dose of a nickel package where they bring in hard-hitting free safety Jimmy Williams to guard against deep throws and drop Milloy into the box.
That could put the Falcons in some matchup problems, but with starting defensive tackles Rod Coleman and Trey Lewis recently placed on IR, Atlanta is scrambling.
-- Byron Leftwich did not practice Tuesday (tailbone) and will be the No. 3 quarterback for Atlanta's game against the Colts at the Georgia Dome. Joey Harrington will start and Chris Redman will be the backup.
-- WR Joe Horn (hamstring) did not practice and will not play against Indianapolis. It will be the third straight game he will miss. Horn said he could play but he is only at about 80 percent. He does plan on being back for Atlanta's Dec. 2 game at St. Louis.
--Atlanta signed NT Jesse Mahelona after placing Rod Coleman and Trey Lewis on injured reserve. Mahelona was a 2006, fifth-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans and played in 10 games with one start. He was cut this training camp and had a brief stint with Miami before being released in October.
--DE Kevin Huntley was signed off the practice squad Tuesday. He was signed to the practice squad in September but cut in early October. The former Raiders practice squad player was re-signed Oct. 29. He will be the fourth DE but he could play because third DE Chauncey Davis might have to play some at DT.
--RB Warrick Dunn needs 26 yards to reach the 10,000-yard milestone, but he also is the only active running back with at least 9,500 rushing yards and 3,800 receiving yards.
The Falcons are going to try to control the clock with a short passing game. The offensive line has been so shaky that running the ball is a crapshoot. The lack of protection also has eliminated a lot of seven-step-drop passes because quarterback Joey Harrington just isn't getting the time to make all of his reads.
Atlanta could have problems getting TE Alge Crumpler involved because he will have to be kept in for protection purposes at times.
Roddy White and tailbacks Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood probably will be utilized in the flats a lot in schemes where Atlanta's coaches hope the get them matched up with linebackers. This tack will work well in the middle of the field but they will have to figure out some way to run the ball in the red zone.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Falcons MLB Keith Brooking vs. Colts OC Jeff Saturday. With DTs Lewis and Coleman out, Saturday could have a much easier time getting a body on Brooking. Brooking is a pursuit linebacker and having to get off head-on blocks has been tough for him. If he gets locked up with Saturday, Joseph Addai might have a big day.
Atlanta's between-the-hashmarks pass coverage vs. Indy's intermediate passing game. The Falcons have been vulnerable in the intermediate zones between the hashes when teams run deep sideline routes with their wide receiver off play-action. The Falcons will have to be mindful of TE Dallas Clark, who finds ways to get open against even the most aware defenses.
Though the loss of defensive tackles Rod Coleman and Trey Lewis could make Atlanta easy pickings in the running game, not having left offensive tackle Todd Weiner (knee) available could be a huge problem.
The Colts will likely pressure quarterback Joey Harrington with a variety of blitzes, twists and stunts. Left tackle Quinn Ojinnaka is a good run blocker but just doesn't have the beef to hold up against the pass for a prolonged period.
Indianapolis will probably bang on him early with some big bodies to try and wear him down then attack him with speed rushers to get to Harrington's blind side.