Times tough for Falcons

Associated Press
Falcons quarterback Joey Harrington (center) has held on to the starting job despite the team's 1-4 record so far this season. He was lifted for backup Byron Leftwich in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to the Titans after throwing for just 87 yards.

ATLANTA - The Atlanta Falcons have more to worry about than their obvious matchup concerns against the hot New York Giants on Monday night.


Sure, there's good reason for the Falcons to stress about the pass protection two new starting offensive tackles will provide quarterback Joey Harrington.

The Falcons don't need more reminders about the recent success of a Giants pass rush led by ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. The Giants had 12 sacks in a win over Philadelphia two weeks ago, including a team-record six by Umenyiora.

There's also debate in Atlanta whether Harrington can hold his starting job as backup Byron Leftwich gains familiarity with the offense.

But routine football talk has seldom been the main topic for the Falcons in recent months. For the 2007 Falcons, a quarterback controversy is Michael Vick in federal court, not Harrington vs. Leftwich.

There are concerns the signs of stress are becoming more difficult to hide, especially when viewed Monday night by a national TV audience.

As a result, team leader Keith Brooking has been in damage control mode this week as the linebacker tries to combat the growing image of a team fraying at the seams.

"Trust me, that is not the case," Brooking said. "You're obviously talking about what Alge said."

Alge Crumpler's criticism of coach Bobby Petrino and the direction of the team after last week's loss at Tennessee is only the latest sign of turmoil.

An Atlanta team that already had to endure an off-season of stress caused by Vick's dogfighting scandal has appeared vulnerable to emotional outbursts through its 1-4 start.

What's next? Will more meltdowns follow on the Monday night stage?

Brooking insists he's not worried.

"Not at all. People don't realize how we've held it together in this locker room through a tremendous amount of turmoil and adversity," Brooking said.

Petrino said he wished Crumpler had stated his concerns in private, but there would be no punishment. The bigger concern is recovering from last week's 20-13 loss at Tennessee, when the Falcons couldn't take advantage of five turnovers.

"It was a tough loss and there's no question about it," Petrino said Wednesday.

The Falcons lost starting offensive tackles Wayne Gandy and Todd Weiner to injuries last week. Gandy is out for the season. Weiner will miss at least two weeks.

The new starters are Renardo Foster, an undrafted rookie, and second-year player Tyson Clabo, also undrafted.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he couldn't remember when a team had two new starters at offensive tackle in the same week.

"I don't know that I have seen it," he said

There were complaints when the Giants opened the season with losses to Dallas and Green Bay. New York (3-2) bounced back with three consecutive wins.



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