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Falcons come close again

Harrington throws for 361 in seven-point loss

    ATLANTA — Joey Harrington earned plenty of cheers from all those Atlanta fans wearing Michael Vick jerseys. It wasn’t enough to give the Falcons their first win without No. 7.

    The Carolina Panthers overcame a 361-yard, two-touchdown performance by Harrington and an injury to Jake Delhomme, taking control after Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall lost his cool, to beat the Falcons 27-20 on Sunday.

    DeShaun Foster rushed 122 yards and scored a couple of TDs, but Carolina (2-1) may have lost its quarterback for a while. Delhomme injured his throwing arm in the third quarter and didn’t return.

    Atlanta (0-3) went ahead 17-10 on Harrington’s second TD pass, a 13-yarder to Alge Crumpler early in the third quarter.

    On Carolina’s next possession, Hall let his temper and Steve Smith get the best of him.

    The two stars had been jawing at each other the entire game, with Hall holding the upper hand in the first half. However, on the first play from scrimmage after the Falcons’ go-ahead touchdown, Delhomme went deep down the sideline for Smith. Clearly beaten, Hall had no choice except to drag down the receiver for a 37-yard interference penalty.

    Apparently frustrated, Hall gave Smith a shove to the upper chest on the next play, drawing a 15-yard personal foul. Then, with Carolina apparently forced into a field-goal try after Delhomme was sacked, Hall drew an unsportsmanlike penalty for continuing to jabber at Smith.

    That gave the Panthers an automatic first down, and they quickly punched it in for the tying TD, Delhomme’s 5-yard pass to Jeff King. Hall even appeared to get into it with his own coach, Bobby Petrino, before being dragged away by a couple of teammates.

    Hall’s antics turned the momentum in Carolina’s favor, even though Delhomme was injured on the next possession after throwing a short pass. He appeared to hurt his elbow and quickly motioned to the sideline, but was in such pain that he couldn’t even make it all the way to the bench before dropping to a knee.

    David Carr, the former No. 1 overall pick who flopped in Houston, guided the Panthers to 10 more points.

    After Delhomme went down, Carr completed a short pass, took a roughing the passer penalty, then handed off to Foster for a 10-yard touchdown run that put the Panthers ahead to stay.

    Before he was done, Carr directed another scoring drive, setting up John Kasay’s 49-yard field goal for a 27-17 lead. The backup completed 3-of-4 passes for 56 yards.

    In their home opener — and first regular-season game since Vick pleaded guilty to running a dogfighting operation — the Falcons couldn’t complain after the play of No. 7’s replacement.

    Harrington had one of the best games of his career, completing 31 of 44 passes with no interceptions and only one sack. That was huge improvement over his first two games, which were marred by a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns and 13 sacks.

    The Falcons managed only 10 points in those losses and signed former Jacksonville starter Byron Leftwich early in the week, a clear sign that Harrington’s job was not secure. But he threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White in the second quarter, then put Atlanta ahead again with the throw to Crumpler.

    Carolina scored the next 17 points. After 47-year-old Morten Andersen, the NFL’s oldest player and leading career scorer, kicked his second field goal for Atlanta, Foster ran out the clock by running through the Falcons’ weary defense.

    Foster also caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Delhomme, who was 10 of 18 for 109 yards before his injury.

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