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Published: Monday, 8/12/2002

Harrington not yet likely to help Lions enough

Rookie quarterback Joey Harrington is the key to the Detroit Lions' resurgence. If Harrington succeeds, in all likelihood so will coach Marty Mornhinweg.

The Lions, and Mornhinweg in particular, aren't questioning anything as it pertains to Harrington.

Mornhinweg has his ego - his future - invested in Harrington.

The quarterback is the leader of the football team. He sets the tone for his teammates and fans.

That's why it was disturbing to see Harrington laughing after throwing an interception on the second pass of his first NFL exhibition game.

Upon reaching the sideline, Harrington played Ed McMahon to Mornhinweg's Johnny Carson, laughing and smiling as Mornhinweg told him a joke.

Wipe the smile off your face, Joey. It's not funny. Frustrated Lions fans live and die with their football team. They're impatient and looking for someone to blame.

Exhibition or no exhibition, they don't need to see you laughing after messing up on your first offensive series. That really ticks them off.

Try looking like you're upset when you throw those killer interceptions. Your veteran teammates are watching, and you haven't proven yourself yet.

Harrington, who played in the second half against the Baltimore Ravens, completed 12 of 21 passes for 117 yards. On his second series, he completed five of six passes as the Lions reached the Baltimore 29 before the drive ended when he was sacked.

Harrington threw two interceptions; the second was crucial. With the score tied late in the game, he tried to squeeze a throw out of his end zone to rookie tight end Matt Murphy. Baltimore safety Will Demps made the interception and ran 18 yards for a touchdown, giving the Ravens a 12-6 victory.

Harrington was just trying to make a play. He should have thrown the ball away. Instead, he made a typical rookie mistake.

In college, Harrington could throw the ball a little late, after his receiver made his break, and get away with it. In the NFL, those passes are intercepted by defensive backs who close much quicker to the ball.

In Mornhinweg's style of offense, the quarterback has to be accurate and make smart decisions. He needs to complete around 60 percent of his passes, especially when the Lions show no hint of a ground attack, which is most of the time.

Detroit's quarterbacks were sacked eight times against Baltimore. Last season the Lions yielded an NFL-high 66 sacks.

That's probably a good reason for Mornhinweg to open the season with second-year player Mike McMahon at quarterback.

McMahon has spent one year learning the offense, plus he comes cheap. He can take the punishment playing behind Detroit's porous offensive line, while Harrington waits in the wings.

Mornhinweg realized when he got to Detroit where the team's strength was. The defense has played pretty well and will have to keep the Lions in games until the offense catches up.

The only way the Lions will get better within their current offensive scheme with the players they have is to keep doing what they're doing and try to improve the things they're doing wrong. Or wait until Harrington's ready to start. Whichever comes first.



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