Behind Enemy Lines: Atlanta

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Bobby Petrino's sudden resignation as coach Tuesday prompted some bitter feelings, but it also led to a sense of elation. The majority of players and several team employees were disenchanted with the first-year coach, whose communication and tact were points of contention, players said.

Though team owner Arthur Blank and players uncharacteristically lambasted Petrino, they also said it's best that he is gone because things had deteriorated to a point to where it's time to proceed without him.

The Falcons will begin their full-time coaching search immediately, but have turned things over to secondary coach Emmitt Thomas in the short term. President and general manager Rich McKay said there is no timetable on finding a coach, but they would like to get one in place as soon as possible in order to adjust the personnel plans.

Bill Cowher, Jason Garrett and Mike Singletary likely will land on Atlanta's short list.

For the past few months, the team's scouting, salary-cap and personnel departments have formulated plans to build a roster to fit Petrino's scheme. That work can be tossed in the garbage now, as Petrino's departure has had profound collateral damage.

Though players did not like Petrino, they questioned his manhood and commitment after he left them before the season ended. They also were livid that he did not tell any of them personally that he was leaving but instead opted to issue a four-sentence form letter.

"Everything he preached over the past eight months was a lie," safety Lawyer Milloy said. "Everything he said he stood for was a lie. He came in and messed with a lot of people's lives -- he wasted a year of my life. It was a cowardly act. A selfish act.

"One thing I'm really (mad) at was while he was having a half-hearted approach to games, he was putting us all at risk. His mind wasn't in it. That explains why he threw a challenge flag a play after he was allowed to. Why we went for it on fourth-and-nine and punted on fourth-and-one. Maybe he was on the phone at Arkansas to the AD at that point.

"The cancer was diagnosed. Never would you want it to be your head coach, your general, to be that cancer, but in our case, it was."

Linebacker Keith Brooking: "I've been totally committed to coach Petrino and everything that he brought to the table, that's why I feel betrayed. It goes a lot deeper than just me. It's Mr. Blank and everything that he's given to us. There is anger inside of me because I bought into coach Petrino and his beliefs and what he was trying to do with this football team. I feel betrayed with the decision that he made."

Nobody was more vocal about Petrino than typically solemn and sincere tailback Warrick Dunn.

"He sold us a dream," Dunn said. "He put this organization last in his life. He's selfish. He's definitely a liar. One of the things we have hanging in our meeting room is (a sign) 'Finish.' If he wanted to leave, you can at least finish three more games. It's 18 days. You can finish it and say, 'You know what, this wasn't for me.' You can respect that. But to let it go yesterday the way that he did and the disrespectful way that he did it, to me he has no heart.

"This guy affected not just my livelihood but other guys'. He had guys thinking that I couldn't play football anymore that I couldn't run. It's not because I wasn't trying. I felt like he was setting us up to fail and when you look back on it, he wasn't in it.

"We have to apologize to our fans. It's not because the players are not playing. Obviously, the guy's half-hearted. It's just one of those things where respect is out the window."

College kids don't rip their coach like this. Maybe that's why Petrino wants to get back to where he felt most comfortable.

SERIES HISTORY

29th regular-season meeting. Tampa Bay leads the series 16-12 after snapping a two-game losing streak earlier this season with a 31-7 victory in Atlanta. That Bucs victory was the first Falcons loss in their current four-game slide.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The losing team has scored a touchdown or less in each of the last three meetings.

--Atlanta, ranked 30th in the league in average points per game (14) has not scored three touchdowns in a game all season.

--Byron Leftwich started at quarterback in the team's last meeting after Joey Harrington had won the previous two games as the starter. Leftwich was pulled before the fourth quarter and he has not played since because of a tailbone injury.

--The left side of the offensive line is completely different than it was during the Nov. 18 game. Left tackle Todd Weiner and left guard Justin Blalock have been replaced by Quinn Ojinnaka and D'Anthony Batiste.

--Atlanta has allowed an average of 31 points over the past four games.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- The number of receiving yards WR Roddy White needs to reach the 1,000-yard mark.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"I hate to see him go and everything. He gave me a job here, so I obviously owe him for helping me. He put food on the table for me so I can't get too upset with him. If what he said is true and it's best for his family, then I'm happy for him." -- Quarterback Chris Redman, the lone supporter of Petrino in the locker room.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

With Hue Jackson now calling plays instead of Bobby Petrino, expect the Falcons to stick with the running game a little more, even if they fall behind. Jackson won't try to get too elaborate and will try to narrow down the points of attack.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--RB Artose Pinner, once the Falcons' short-yardage back, was waived Wednesday. Pinner was phased out of the offense three weeks ago when rookie Jason Snelling was promoted from the practice squad.

--The Falcons signed OL Pat McCoy (6-5, 328), who spent the past two seasons with Philadelphia. The second-year player was added for depth and to groom in the offseason.

--DT Rod Coleman, on injured reserve (triceps, hand), said that he has gotten involved in some substantial real-estate ventures in the Southeast while he is rehabilitating his injuries.

--P/K Michael Koenen has 12 touchbacks on kickoffs.

--QB Chris Redman's 40 pass attempts and 298 yards vs. New Orleans Monday night were the most attempts and passing yards in his five-year career.

GAME PLAN

The Falcons' biggest task won't be trying to corral Jeff Garcia or trying to move the ball against the Bucs. It will simply be to keep things together on the field after this week's events.

Safety Lawyer Milloy said players have to be at their most aware because they are playing a team with playoff hopes. If the Falcons get too caught up in the madness that took place Monday and Tuesday, they could be in major trouble.

The Falcons have not put up much of a fight over the past month, in part because players had lost faith in Petrino. Whether the coaching change elicits a spike in effort will be worth watching. If so, maintaining it could be the hard part.

This team has been though the emotional wringer this week, from Michael Vick getting sentenced to 23 months in prison on Monday to Bobby Petrino turning his back on them Tuesday.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Falcons Gs Kynan Forney and D'Anthony Batiste vs. Tampa Bay DTs Jovan Haye and Chris Hovan. Forney and Batiste got overwhelmed last week against the Saints, in part because they spent the majority of games in pass protection. Both players are at their best when they're able to get involved in the running game, where their physicality can come into play. Both players have struggled against some creative fronts with aggressive tackles and Hovan and Haye fit the mold.

INJURY IMPACT

Garcia is expected to return and his mobility could hurt the Falcons. Since tackles Rod Coleman and Trey Lewis went down with knee injuries, Atlanta has failed to generate much of a pass rush. That could lead to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer calling on some blitzes. That tends to lead to man-to-man coverages and the Falcons are vulnerable, especially deep, in those coverages.


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