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Now or Never?
SO THIS is how
it's going to be for the Falcons on the road this year.
"Never heard 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.
Entering the 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.
Nevertheless, 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."
"Hell, yeah, 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 happen."