Carolina Panthers

Harrington's ride in Atlanta might be repeat of career

CHARLOTTE -- Atlanta quarterback Joey Harrington's season has mirrored his audition for the Carolina Panthers in free agency.

He almost arrived, but not quite.

The Panthers brought Harrington in for a visit in March, but ultimately chose David Carr as their backup quarterback. The pecking order mirrored the 2002 draft, when Carr was the first overall pick and Harrington third.

That sent the former Detroit and Miami starter just down the road, where he became the leader by default when Michael Vick pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges related to a dogfighting ring.

And after a rough start, things haven't exactly smoothed out for the Falcons, who have scored 10 points in their two losses.

"It's been tough for us to get in the end zone," Harrington said. "The frustrating part is that we have had about four drives of over five or six minutes. We had a 15-play drive against Minnesota that didn't get points, and a 10-play drive last week at Jacksonville.

"We have had a couple really good drives that were clock eaters that just haven't ended in points. We need to find a way to turn the things we're doing well, like converting 50 percent of third downs, and that stuff should lead to points."

Rookie NFL coach Bobby Petrino left the college game in part because the Falcons wanted someone who could take advantage of Vick's singular talents. But he said was pleased with the way Harrington picked up the system he brought from Louisville, though he hoped for better returns.

"He's been a guy that hasn't been as consistent as you would like," Petrino said. "He has done a real nice job of working hard at learning the system and operating it. He has done a great job for us on third downs. It's kind of a grade were he really hasn't hurt our team at all, we just need some big plays."

It's been hard for Harrington to do so, because he's been on his back more often than not. The Falcons have surrendered 13 sacks in two games, meaning Harrington's been dropped once every five times he drops back.

Perhaps sensing imminent danger, the Falcons this week signed another former first-round quarterback, Byron Leftwich.

There's no chance he'd be ready Sunday, but Petrino hesitated when asked how long it might be before he was ready.

"I don't know that," Petrino said. "I think its how quick somebody can process the information."

• VOTE OF CONFIDENCE? Many thought Atlanta would act quickly when the Panthers cut running back Eric Shelton. After all, they're a little thin there, and Shelton played well for Petrino at Louisville before the Panthers wasted a 2005 second-round pick on him.

From the sounds of Petrino, they might not be interested.

"Eric was a very good player for me at Louisville," he said. "Unfortunately, I didn't get to watch any of him in the NFL. I really have no idea how he played or what he did. That's a hard one, because there are a lot of guys I thought could play on Sunday and didn't and there are a few guys that I didn't think could and ended up doing real well.

"There are a lot of guys on the street with the ability to learn and have the heart and dedication to it; a lot of times that makes the difference."

• EXTRA POINTS: Panthers defensive end Stanley McClover and safety Deke Cooper returned to practice Friday after missing the last two days. Both are listed as probable with thigh injuries ... Backup middle linebacker Adam Seward was held out for the third straight day with a calf problem. He's doubtful, leaving the Panthers without a proven backup to Dan Morgan.