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After loss to Bucs, Falcons get Super Bowl champs

ATLANTA - Tired of booing, most Atlanta Falcons fans had fled the Georgia Dome in disgust by the time the fourth quarter was barely under way.

Who could blame them?

The Falcons have probably had worse performances in their mostly ill-fated history, but it's hard to remember when.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank was overheard giving his one-word summation. "Unbelievable," he said after Sunday's 31-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Now the Falcons (3-6) have to play the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts (8-2) on Thanksgiving night.

It's doubtful that many of who saw Sunday's debacle will cut their holiday short to return for a potential encore. They've already seen the Falcons play like turkeys.

The Falcons-Colts game was chosen for Thanksgiving night when Atlanta's quarterback was Michael Vick. Peyton Manning versus Vick had prime-time appeal.

Now all the Falcons have is a quarterback controversy and a not-ready-for-prime-time team.

The good thing is that the 8:15 p.m. game will be carried by the NFL Network. Not many people get it.

"We got our butts whipped and now we have to play the world champs," safety Lawyer Milloy said. "At least we don't have much time to think about this and that's good."

Despite a two-game winning streak with Joey Harrington at quarterback, coach Bobby Petrino went with Byron Leftwich against Tampa Bay.

Talk about a move that didn't work out.

"It certainly wasn't what we expected," Petrino said of his team's dreadful performance. "I don't think you can put all the blame on the quarterback."

Leftwich, though, was the fans' target.

Coming back from ankle surgery, he threw two interceptions and fumbled twice, one returned for a touchdown.

Leftwich, who takes an eternity to get rid of the ball, was like a statue behind a porous Falcon line that was further weakened when left tackle Todd Weiner reinjured his knee.

"To be honest with you, I've never been involved with something like this," Leftwich said. "It's difficult to deal with. It should bother everybody. I know it bothers me."

Fans were chanting "Joey! Joey! Joey!" before the end of the first quarter. But by the time they got their wish late in the third period, it was 24-0.

Harrington did throw a touchdown pass in the final minute, but by then less than 5,000 fans remained at the Georgia Dome and a lot of them were Bucs fans.

"We've got a lot of evaluating to do," Petrino said when asked about his quarterback situation.

"I don't care who the quarterback is, I just want to win," said tailback Warrick Dunn, who didn't get to reach the 10,000-yard milestone against his old team. "We can't cry or sulk. We have to get ready for the Colts."

Quarterback isn't the only issue. In addition to Weiner, defensive tackles Trey Lewis and Rod Coleman, and backup tight end Dwayne Blakely were knocked out of the Bucs' game.

"We had a lot of injuries and that hurts," Petrino said. "No question."

The Colts, of course, are also banged up. But facing Manning and the defending Super Bowl champs is certainly not the best way for the Falcons to get back on track.

The fans are outraged and the team very fragile.

"I can hardly wait for Thursday night," Blank was overheard saying, obviously not thrilled with the way things have played out.

The Falcons last played on Thanksgiving in 2005, beating the Lions and Harrington 27-7 in Detroit. The Ford Field fans booed and Steve Mariucci was fired a few days later.

Mariucci didn't have much to be thankful for on that Thanksgiving. The same holds true for the Falcons this year.

SideBar: Colts at Falcons

When: Thursday, 8:15 p.m.

Where: Georgia Dome

TV/Radio: NFL/92.9-FM