FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Joey Harrington, who has been sacked
13 times in his first two starts for the Falcons, was feeling more
heat on Monday -- this time from his coach.
Bobby Petrino said it's not fair to blame the offensive line for
the high sack totals -- including seven in Sunday's 13-7 loss at
Petrino said Harrington is holding the ball too long.
"I think right now Joey is playing a little bit conservative, a
little bit not to throw the interception," Petrino said.
"Therefore it is causing him to hold the ball. He just needs to
open it up more with confidence and play to go win the game."
Harrington could soon have a new backup. Byron Leftwich, cut by
Jacksonville in a surprise preseason move, could sign a deal with
the team this week.
ESPN reported Monday night that Leftwich will take a team
physical on Tuesday.
Falcons spokesman Reggie Roberts said Monday night there has
been no agreement between the Falcons and the 27-year-old Leftwich.
The key to a deal could be the physical.
Ankle and knee problems have prevented Leftwich, the seventh
pick in the 2003 draft, from completing a full season. He missed 15
games the past two years before he was beaten out in the preseason
by David Garrard for the Jaguars' starting job.
Falcons general manager Rich McKay could not be reached for
comment on Monday night. Earlier in the day, the Falcons addressed
another concern by re-signing veteran kicker Morten Andersen.
Harrington was sacked only 18.4 times per season in his first
five years in the league with Detroit and Miami. He avoided sacks
with quick passes in Detroit's West Coast offense but now is taking
deeper drops in Petrino's scheme.
Harrington was 12-for-20 passing for 200 yards with no
touchdowns and no interceptions against Jacksonville as the Falcons
fell to 0-2.
The Falcons are lapping the NFL field in sacks allowed. Through
Sunday's games, no other quarterback had been sacked more than
In Monday's news conference lasting about 7 minutes, Petrino
made four statements about Harrington holding the ball too long.
The coach also said the line, backs and receivers share blame.
"I'm certainly concerned about our passing game, I would say
our protection in our passing game," Petrino said, adding, "It's
not all on the offensive line.
"Anytime you're getting sacks, it's the quarterback's
responsibility to get us in the right protections and to get the
ball out of his hands, it's the receiver's responsibility to get
open on time and the offensive line, running back, tight end's
responsibility to protect and do their assignment with their job."
Harrington was not available for comment on Monday.
Harrington was sacked four times in the fourth quarter in a 24-3
loss at Minnesota to open the season, and he was sacked three times
in the final 15 minutes against the Jaguars. He was sacked on the
Falcons' final play of each game.
The Falcons led the Jaguars 7-3 after three quarters, but
Harrington was only 1-for-4 passing for 8 yards in the fourth
"It's not a sack issue, an O-line issue, a receiver issue,"
Harrington said Sunday. "It's everybody's issue."
The Falcons, who play Carolina in Atlanta next Sunday, have
scored only 10 points in two games.
Tailback Warrick Dunn, who scored Atlanta's only touchdown of
the season Sunday, said Harrington and others are still adjusting
to the new offense.
"I think it's just guys being comfortable," Dunn said. "You
can't just blame Joey on the sacks. Sometimes Joey drops back and
may hold the ball a second too long.
"I think it's a matter of being comfortable in the offense and
understanding where everybody is going to be. He knows that, but to
me I don't think it's second nature to where he's reacting to what
he sees. I think everyone is still thinking a little bit instead of
just truly reacting."
Harrington, who has topped 100 yards rushing in a season only
once, is a dramatic change in style from suspended former starter
Michael Vick, who last year became the first NFL quarterback to
rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Vick was suspended indefinitely by the league last month
following his guilty plea on a dogfighting charge. He is scheduled
to be sentenced on Dec. 10.
It's not enough that Falcons fans must wonder how the loss of
Vick hurt the team. Vick's former backup, Matt Schaub, ranks among
the league's passing leaders as the new starter for Houston.
The Falcons traded Schaub only weeks before investigators
uncovered evidence of dogfighting on Vick's property in Virginia.
The Falcons had 82 yards rushing in the loss, their second
straight game under 100 yards. They were held under 100 yards in
only one game last season.
"We're still learning, still growing," Petrino said. "We just
have to do a better job of getting the ball in the end zone. I'm
tired of moving the ball and not getting points."