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Leftwich replaces Harrington as Atlanta's starting QB

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Byron Leftwich has replaced Joey Harrington as the Atlanta Falcons' starting quarterback.

Hoping to spark an offense that's struggled without suspended quarterback Michael Vick, coach Bobby Petrino said Wednesday 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 well."

The decision wasn't difficult for Petrino after the offense failed to score off three New York turnovers on Monday night. The Giants won 31-10, dropping Atlanta to 1-5.

Petrino indicated that Leftwich might have played against New York if he hadn't missed so much practice time with a mild ankle sprain last week.

Offensively, the Falcons have scored only seven touchdowns.

Leftwich, who led the Jaguars to a 24-20 record when he started during four years with Jacksonville, signed a two-year, $7 million contract last month after being released. 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 two weeks ago.

The Falcons are 0-3 in the NFC going into Sunday's game at New Orleans (1-4). Only St. Louis, at 0-5, has a worse conference record. Petrino believes his team can still gain ground.

Petrino has seen enough of Harrington, whose statistics are respectable with a 63.1 completion percentage and a passer rating of 80.1, but the offense continues to languish.

"That's the big part of it," the coach said. "We need to make a change and get something going."

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.

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 65 games as a starter. Last season he became the first NFL quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

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."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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