ATLANTA - Quarterback Jeff George all but ruled out a reconciliation with the Atlanta Falcons Wednesday, portraying himself as a scapegoat for the team's problems and suggesting he is ready to lead another team to the Super Bowl.
George held his own news conference and expressed little regret for the sideline blowup at coach June Jones during Sunday's loss to Philadelphia that led the Falcons to suspend him and put him on the trade block.
George said he regretted the language he used, but not the fact he became upset about being benched in favor of Bobby Hebert midway through the third quarter of a 33-18 loss. George had completed 11 passes in a row before the interception ended his night.
"I have no regrets on what happened Sunday," George said. `I know that's the focal point of what all this is about. I was upset at the time when he decided to take me out. I was being a competitor. It was tough to take, because I believed I could bring the team back."
George claimed that his benching was "predetermined" as the result of pressure from Falcons management on coach June Jones to play Hebert - a charge Jones vehemently denied.
"I have the (authority) to make my own decisions and have made my own decisions," Jones said. "Nobody has told me what to do. If I don't get it done, I don't get it done. But it won't be because somebody told me what to do."
Falcons president Taylor Smith, who has never been able to hide his fondness for Hebert, denies pushing Jones to change quarterbacks.
In so many words, George suggested that his suspension is a case of the Falcons blaming him for the team's 0-3 start and offensive shortcomings. George said he didn't believe Jones was angry with him after the Eagles game and that he was "shocked" by the next day's suspension.
"Nothing said was personal, and June admitted that after the game," George said. "He said he liked that (how George reacted to being benched). He said if it was him in the same situation, he would have done the same thing."
Jones did make comments to that affect in his post-game news conference, but said he never spoke to George after the game.
George's agent, Leigh Steinberg, said Wednesday that "it's fairly clear" George has played his last game in Atlanta, and George conceded as much. Falcons vice president Ken Herock was in Los Angeles on a scouting trip, but was said to be working the phones on the George matter.
"I'll find a team," George said. "There's a team out there that's in need of a quarterback - a team that's a quarterback away from the Super Bowl. There's no doubt, I'm confident in my mind, I can lead them to where they want to go."
At least six teams have expressed interest - Oakland, Baltimore, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Arizona and St. Louis. However, none of those teams would be able to fit George's remaining 1996 salary of $2.78 million under its salary cap without trading or releasing other high-profile players.
If the Falcons cannot trade George by Sunday, they would have to release him or allow him to return. Under NFL labor rules, there are strict guidelines determining how and when a team can suspend a player without pay, and George is under a one-game suspension for "conduct detrimental to the team."
It's unlikely that George would be accepted back without expressing remorse for his actions.
"Jeff could come back," Hebert said. "I don't know personally how he feels about things. I know probably the manly thing to do - and I'm not telling him what to do - would be to apologize to your teammates for treating your head coach that way and just work from there.
"You just can't be `Joe Cool' and say, `I'm going to play this off because everything's going to be all right. That's not the way it works."
Hebert, who hasn't started a game since 1993, will start Sunday's game at San Francisco and could be the team's quarterback for the rest of the season. Browning Nagle, re-signed this week, is Hebert's backup.
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