FLOWERY BRANCH - Joey Harrington's teammates in Detroit sometimes called him 'Joey Sunshine' for staying upbeat after another crushing loss.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback's mind-set has worn down considerably, though, since the Lions drafted Harrington No. 3 overall in 2002.
After all, who can ignore 50 losses in 76 NFL starts and five benchings in the last three seasons? Thanks to mastering the value of spin long ago, Harrington seemingly can.
A brief talk with Harrington usually goes like this:
· It's not so much that he's never played on a team that won more than six games in a single season. What matters is that Harrington learned so much from the experience.
· Yes, he's battling for a third-string job with the Falcons, whose depth chart has Chris Redman listed first and future franchise centerpiece Matt Ryan second. The important thing is that Harrington will be ready if the Falcons need him.
And that's not all. Harrington wants his critics to know he might be just one lucky break from earning a chance to start full-time in the NFL.
'I said it when I came into the league seven years ago and I say it now: There's no doubt in my mind that I can play in this league, and there's no doubt I can be a starting quarterback in this league,' Harrington said Thursday.
Harrington even found meaning in coach Mike Smith's announcement that he will start Atlanta's preseason game Saturday against Indianapolis.
Smith said two weeks ago that each of the team's four quarterbacks would make a start this month. Redman took his turn in last week's 20-17 loss at Jacksonville, and either Ryan or D.J. Shockley will go Aug. 22 against Tennessee.
After Ryan debuted late in the second quarter and finished with an impressive 105.7 passer rating, Harrington took charge to begin the third and completed 5 of 7 passes for 64 yards. He also ran for a 1-yard touchdown.
'I think Joey's had a very good camp,' Smith said. 'I thought he made a number of throws last week in the game. He moved the offense and we were able to score 10 points with him as the quarterback.'
Harrington's spot on Atlanta's depth chart notwithstanding, the former Oregon standout can't imagine his career sinking further than it did last year, and that includes all those home games that fans booed him in Detroit.
His relationship with brusque coach Bobby Petrino, who left Louisville for a chance to coach Michael Vick, was damaged irreparably after a 20-13 win at Carolina in Week 10.
Harrington had just led the Falcons to two straight victories after he and Alge Crumpler connected for a game-winning touchdown pass in the final 20 seconds.
Petrino, who suddenly resigned a month later, was unmoved, benching Harrington in favor of Byron Leftwich for the second time in four games. Worse yet, after listening to Petrino occasionally respond to one of his suggestions during a game with, 'Shut up, Joey,' Harrington learned about the demotion from reporters.