THE FALCONS ARE ticked off, and who could blame them?

As if the Michael Vick saga wasn't enough, the rising star first-year head coach abandons the club the day after falling to 3-10.

Joey Harrington, a quarterback who's certainly seen his share of rocky times in his career, pulled no punches regarding Bobby Petrino's sudden resignation to take the job at the University of Arkansas. Petrino left the Falcons players a note in their lockers just before bolting.

"When we saw him doing his press conference at Arkansas [late Tuesday night], that's what I think brought up the anger to have him talk about family, about team and about commitment, and then to come in here and have a form letter at your locker," Harrington said. "That's not how a man acts. That's how a coward acts."

Sure, things were disintegrating in Hotlanta, but Petrino bailing in the middle of a monsoon is, well, cowardly. Here's the note he left: "Atlanta Falcons Players: Out of my respect for you, I am letting you know that, with a heavy heart, I resigned today as the Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons. This decision was not easy but was made in the best interest of me and my family. While my desire would have been to finish out what has been a difficult season for us all, circumstances did not allow me to do so. I appreciate your hard work and wish you the best."

"Sincerely, Bobby Petrino."

The Falcons now turn to defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas, who won't look at anything beyond this week's visit to Tampa Bay. "Let's don't take this any further than this day and this game-to-game situation," said Thomas, an Eagles defensive coordinator from 1995-98. "I'll be 65 in June and all the years [6] I've been here have been good to me, and I'm just happy I can give some back."

See ya (well, not really)

NFL Network announcer Bryant Gumbel is ill and will miss tonight's Broncos-Texans game.

He won't be alone. *

- Ed Barkowitz

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