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harrington may be headed back to no. 2


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the decisive 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end alge crumpler in a 20-13 victory over carolina on sunday - but he has not entrenched himself as the long-term starter.

byron leftwich is moving closer to being medically cleared to resume practice after ankle surgery two weeks ago. it means he could be moving closer to reassuming the starting quarterback job he's held for a half of a game.

coach bobby petrino was non-committal monday about leftwich's role once he is healthy enough to play, which signaled he and his staff are assessing all ramifications of making a switch at a time when the falcons (3-6) are playing their best football of the season.

if leftwich is able to practice this week, a change could be in the works for sunday's nfc south matchup with tampa bay at the georgia dome.

"we've kind of got to wait and see the health of byron," petrino said. "there's a lot of things before you consider ..."

one of those things is the possible momentum generated by two consecutive wins that have, at the very least, given some hope to players and fans. disrupting one of the few positives to have woven itself into a season of one bad thing after another is an issue, especially since the falcons are only two games behind nfc south leader tampa bay (5-4).

"we're excited right now," linebacker keith brooking said after sunday's win.

until the team's recent reversal of fortune, there was little doubt among the coaching staff that leftwich would regain the starting job once he recovered from surgery to insert screws in his lower leg to support tendons damaged after being tackled in the third quarter of a loss at new orleans on oct. 21.

leftwich, signed as a free agent two weeks into the season after being released by jacksonville, started that game after atlanta opened the season 1-5 under harrington. leftwich was 15-of-23 passing with a touchdown in leading atlanta to a 13-7 halftime lead but went down early in the third quarter.

harrington failed to rally atlanta against the saints, but once he regained his starting job, he helped the falcons win their next two games against san francisco and carolina.

though leftwich had played an aggregate of just over three quarters - he relieved harrington in the fourth quarter of an oct. 7 loss at tennessee - his arm strength, leadership and penchant for throwing the ball deep allowed petrino and offensive coordinator hue jackson to run the more aggressive offense they prefer.

the coaching staff would rather not put harrington (168-of-264, 1,737 yards, five tds, five interceptions) in a position to try and make an abundance of plays. he can't make some of the downfield throws leftwich can and he has a history of inconsistency, especially when he's faced with pressures.

leftwich had hoped to be able to practice last week but suffered some unexpected discomfort last tuesday after a workout monday. the medical staff cautiously managed his rehabilitation schedule the rest of the week and leftwich was among eight inactive players at carolina.

"we don't know how his health is yet," petrino said of leftwich. "we've got to wait and see how healthy he is. he felt like he would be back last week and that didn't materialize. even though he did get a lot of work later in the week, there's no reason to say or think anything until you know the health status."

let's hope for a speedy recoery.

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