Now or Never?
finally in the right situation, Joey Harrington gets his shot in Atlanta for
what will be a make-or-break year
SO THIS is how
it's going to be for the Falcons on the road this year.
"Hey, Joey! Who let the dogs out? Woof-woof-woof-woof!" That's the way
quarterback Joey Harrington and his Atlanta teammates were greeted when they
walked down the tunnel at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., last
Friday night. The dogfighting charges against Michael Vick undoubtedly will
follow his team wherever it goes this season, even if he doesn't make it into
it," Harrington said of the shouting, after the Falcons' 13--10 win. Then
he added, with a smile, "Hey, if I survived death threats to my cellphone
in Detroit, I think I can take a little barking."
Based on how his
first five years in the NFL went, you'd think his name was The Embattled Joey
Harrington. In four years with the Lions and then last season with the
Dolphins, Harrington, the third pick in the 2002 draft, went 23--43 as a
starter, never threw 20 TD passes in a season and never had a year in which he
completed more than 57.5% of his attempts—in a league in which the average over
the past five seasons was 59.5%. Among active quarterbacks with at least three
years of starting experience, his 68.1 passer rating is the lowest.
season, the Falcons would be suspect with Vick under center, and without him
they look to be one of the worst teams in the league. In his first two
preseason trials using new coach Bobby Petrino's offense, which relies heavily
on the quarterback's decision-making at the line, Harrington directed one
scoring drive in seven possessions. Against the Bills the wide receivers,
perennially plagued with bad hands, were true to form in dropping two catchable
Harrington passes on a first-quarter drive. Just as bad—in one of those moments
that used to leave Lions fans thinking, Why did he make that throw?—Harrington
tossed a wounded duck into a stiff breeze that was intercepted by Buffalo
cornerback Terrence McGee.
Harrington walks and talks like a man who just won the lottery. He says this is
the first time in his career that a coach has trusted him to make multiple
adjustments at the line. And why not? It was his football intelligence, after
all, that contributed to Harrington's becoming a hot prospect at Oregon, where
he was 25--3.
"This is the
break I was looking for, because this offense was made for me," said
Harrington, who was released by the Dolphins in March. "In Detroit what we
called was what we ran. Here you see pressure coming that you didn't expect,
you make a protection adjustment at the line, and it allows you the time to
make plays. [The quarterback] always has the trump card."
But after five
seasons of mediocre results at best, one has to wonder if Harrington is cut out
to be an NFL quarterback. He doesn't seem capable of lifting a needy team to
I can do this, and I can succeed," he said. "The thing I've learned is,
if I dwell on any of the stuff outside my control—fans, media, the distractions
[of the Vick situation]—I will miss my opportunity. I won't let that