FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -The first guy to get a shot at replacing Michael Vick already flunked the test.
Next up, Byron Leftwich.
The Atlanta Falcons switched quarterbacks on Wednesday, hoping Leftwich can spark an offense that struggled for points with Joey Harrington as the starter. Coach Bobby Petrino said he intends to keep it that way the rest of the season.
``We need to make a change and get something going,'' the first-year coach said.
Leftwich, a former starter in Jacksonville, was ecstatic to get a second chance, even though it's with the hapless Falcons (1-5).
With Vick suspended indefinitely and facing a likely prison sentence for his involvement in dogfighting, Atlanta's offense has scored just seven touchdowns.
``Football has been really taken away from me the last month and a half,'' Leftwich said. ``It just seems like it's a new feeling. It's all fun again. Any time you're not out there, it's a tough situation to deal with.''
Whether Leftwich can energize Atlanta's woeful offense remains to be seen. But it wasn't a difficult decision for Petrino after the Falcons failed to score off three New York turnovers in a 31-10 loss to the Giants on Monday night.
Leftwich's first start will be Sunday at NFC South rival New Orleans (1-4).
Petrino indicated that Leftwich might have played against New York if he hadn't missed so much practice the previous week with a mild ankle sprain.
Leftwich already has shown Petrino and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, who worked as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator when the Jaguars drafted Leftwich seventh overall in 2003, that he understands the offense well enough.
``He's come along with it,'' Petrino said. ``He's been here a month now. I wish he would've gotten all those reps he missed last week with the ankle injury, but the ankle feels good, and that's a good thing.''
Leftwich, who went 24-20 in four years with Jacksonville, was released just before the season and signed a two-year, $7 million contract with the Falcons after Week 2. In his only appearance with Atlanta, Leftwich was 2-of-8 for 28 yards and one interception after replacing Harrington in the fourth quarter of a 20-13 loss at Tennessee.
Harrington's statistics are respectable with a 63.1 completion percentage and a passer rating of 80.1 - despite being sacked 21 times, just four fewer than Jon Kitna's league-leading total with Detroit.
But Petrino has seen enough, believing Leftwich has more tangible assets than Harrington.
``He has a very strong arm,'' the coach said. ``He throws the ball deep down the field, and he just needs to be able to see it, and I have the confidence that he can put it in there. I think he'll do well.''
Signed to be the backup to Vick after the Falcons traded Matt Schaub to Houston, Harrington is 24-48 as a starter with Detroit, Miami and Atlanta. The Lions drafted him third overall in 2002.
Harrington left the locker room without speaking to reporters on Wednesday, but he sounded despondent after the loss to the Giants, as if sensing that he was about to lose another starting job.
It could be his final chance.
``We were moving it just fine, and then just everything shut down,'' Harrington said. ``I mean, everything. I missed some. We dropped some. We missed some protections. ... It was everywhere. That's the frustrating part. You don't know where to pinpoint your efforts.''
Vick, who pleaded guilty in Virginia two months ago to federal charges of bankrolling a dogfighting ring, led the Falcons to 39 wins and two playoff appearances in 66 games as a starter. He also became the first NFL quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Petrino decided in a staff meeting Tuesday to bench Harrington and go with Leftwich.
``I think coach Petrino got to the point where he has enough confidence in me that I know what I'm doing now,'' Leftwich said. ``He's giving me the opportunity to lead this football team.''

NFL Team Pages

Sports Insights' Advanced Betting Tools - NFL Free 14-Day Trial

Recent NFL Discussions