There have been indications since the Falcons' loss to the New York Giants on Monday night that Atlanta coaches were strongly considering a change at quarterback, where Joey Harrington has started all six games for the 1-5 Falcons.
That change will come this week when the Falcons play at New Orleans. Falcons coach Bobby Petrino said Wednesday that he plans to keep Leftwich as his starter for the rest of the season.
"He has a very strong arm," Petrino 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
The Falcons hope that Leftwich, a fifth-year veteran signed last month after his release from the Jacksonville Jaguars, will provide a spark for the team's sagging offense. Atlanta statistically ranks 27th in total offense and is 29th in scoring, averaging just 13.2 points per game. The Falcons have scored only six offensive touchdowns in six games.
Leftwich is excited about his opportunity to breathe life into the Falcons' struggling offense.
"Football has been really taken away from me the last month and
a half,'' he 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."
Petrino decided in a staff meeting on Tuesday to bench Harrington and go with Leftwich.
"I brought them both in early this morning and met with them," Petrino said. "I wanted to make sure Joey knew first, then I
brought Byron in."
Two weeks ago, coach Bobby Petrino moved Leftwich ahead of Chris Redman into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. But last week, Leftwich suffered a slight ankle sprain, missed two days of practice, and was listed as the No. 3 or "emergency" quarterback Monday night. Petrino indicated that Leftwich might have played against New
York if he hadn't missed so much practice time with his ankle injury last week.
Although he has been with the team for only a month, Leftwich, a quick learner, has said that he is comfortable enough in Petrino's offense to operate it. Rather than try to teach him the entire playbook, coaches instead have worked with Leftwich on simply mastering the game plan from week to week.
Leftwich 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
Leftwich, 27, has played in only one game since signing a two-year contract on Sept. 18. He replaced Harrington in an Oct. 7 loss at Tennessee and completed two of eight passes for 28 yards, with one interception.
The Jaguars' first-round choice in the 2003 draft, Leftwich has started 44 games in his career, going 24-20.
In six games this season, Harrington has completed 123 of 195 passes for 1,279 yards. He has four touchdown passes, four interceptions and an 80.3 passer rating. Harrington has played well at times but suffered from poor offensive line play. The Falcons have allowed 22 sacks.
"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."
ESPN.com senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was also used in this report.