Lopsided loss leaves Petrino with yet another QB decision

ATLANTA - Joey Harrington was sixth in the NFC in completion percentage and had led the Atlanta Falcons to two straight wins when he was benched by coach Bobby Petrino for the start of Sunday's 31-7 loss to Tampa Bay.

It's little wonder Harrington bristled when asked if he felt he had made a case for reclaiming the starting job after he completed 16 of 20 passes with the Falcons' only touchdown pass in relief of Byron Leftwich.

'I'm not trying to make a case to start,' Harrington said. 'I'm trying to do a job for this team. Coach has made his decision. My job is to be ready for this team whenever I'm needed. If that means to start, then I'll start. If it means to back up and be ready to play, that's what I'll do as well. I want to play for this team.'

Leftwich threw two interceptions and lost one of his two fumbles. A combination of too little protection by the offensive line and holding the ball too long doomed Leftwich, who was 15-of-28 passing for 106 yards and was sacked three times before he was pulled in the third quarter.

If Falcons fans have a vote, Petrino will start Harrington in Thursday night's home game against Indianapolis. Fans began booing Leftwich in the second quarter. They chanted 'Joey! Joey!' and cheered when Harrington came in the game.

Then again, the chant might have been 'Byron! Byron!' if Harrington had been the starter in the lopsided loss.

The only remaining quarterback option for the Falcons (3-7) is Chris Redman, and why not? Redman is a perfect 1-for-1 passing this season, and at this point Petrino might be ready for an unsoiled starter.

The more likely scenario is that Petrino sticks with Leftwich, though the coach was clearly disappointed in Sunday's performance. Leftwich started after missing two games following ankle surgery.

The ankle held up, but Leftwich spent too much time on the ground and too much time making decisions.

Leftwich, the former Jacksonville starter, was making only his second start and third appearance for Atlanta after signing with the team on Sept. 18.

Petrino said Leftwich had no grace period for the time he missed since hurting his ankle on Oct. 21 against New Orleans.

'I wouldn't say a grace period,' Petrino said, adding it was a 'staff decision' to start Leftwich.

'We felt that with the way he practiced and moved around that he should start,' Petrino said.

Petrino said drops by receivers and lack of protection hurt Leftwich.

'We have a lot to evaluate and look at over the next few days,' Petrino said.

'I don't think you can always put all the blame on the quarterback.'