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Published: Monday, 9/20/2004

Lions roaring: Rookie Williams gives Detroit big lift

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - Could it be that the Detroit Lions have turned a corner?

Despite their 28-16 victory over the Houston Texans yesterday before 61,465 at Ford Field, that remains to be seen.

But one thing looks evident early on - rookie wideout Roy Williams, the Lions' top draft pick, has the ability to turn a top cornerback (Houston's Aaron Glenn) into just another defender with his blend of size, strength, speed and hands.

On two superb catches, Williams hauled in two of quarterback Joey Harrington's three touchdown passes as the Lions started a season 2-0 for the first time since 2000.

With Detroit losing its previous top draft pick, former Michigan State star Charles Rogers, to a season-ending collarbone injury (last week versus Chicago) for the second straight year, Williams is emerging as a stand-in as No. 1 dance partner for Harrington.

"Obviously I was the happiest guy in Detroit when we drafted Roy because it set up a 1-2 punch with the young guys," Harrington said. "Then we brought in Tai Streets, the cagey veteran, a playmaker.

"Losing Charles hurts. That's pretty obvious. But I don't think we're going to miss a beat because Roy's picking it up very quickly and Tai has started five years for a playoff team."

Williams' take on his second NFL game?

"I think I did OK," he said. "There's still a lot of things I need to learn. In the first half I made a couple mistakes that need to be corrected. The second half was pretty good.

"I had a couple lucky grabs and we won the game. This is big but it's just the second game of the season. When we get to Game 13 or 14, and we have a pretty decent record, then I might be up."

Lions coach Steve Mariucci sees big possibilities.

"Obviously he's a strong guy," Mariucci said. "He's a physical specimen. They have to decide if they're going to bump-and-run him, because he's very physical, and he's a 10.08 100-meter guy, so he's got some speed as well. Then you add the great hands. He gives you a little bit of all that."

Harrington shook off a poor first half to finish 18-of-25 passing for 176 yards and one interception to go with his three TD passes. His QB rating was a lofty 114.3, the second-highest of his career.

Special teams were also a plus, highlighted by Eddie Drummond's first career kickoff-return TD, a play that answered a Texan TD in the third quarter and was perhaps the most pivotal in the game.

In a first half bogged down by penalties and sub-par offensive execution by both teams, Detroit took a 7-3 lead to the break on the strength of a single sustained drive.

The Lions marched 61 yards on nine plays and had two key third-down conversions en route to the end zone.

Harrington - otherwise mediocre in completing 7 of 12 first-half passes for 35 yards and being sacked twice - completed a 12-yarder early in the second quarter to Az-Zahir Hakim on a third-and-11 play to the Texans' 27.

Rookie back Kevin Jones followed that up with a 16-yard gain to the 11 and, two plays later, the Texans yielded a first-and-goal at the 1 when Glenn interfered on Streets (four catches, 32 yards).

Harrington sold a play-action fake to Jones, then lofted a one-yard TD pass to wide-open fullback Cory Schlesinger 6:56 before halftime.

The Texans (0-2) went 75 yards on 10 plays to set up Kris Brown's 34-yard field goal with 1:06 left.

After trading turnovers to open the third quarter - a Harrington interception and a lost fumble by Houston back Domanick Davis - the teams traded long TD passes on the next two possessions.

Detroit capped a 79-yard drive on a terrific catch by Williams, who outleaped Glenn at the 3 and slunk into the end zone on a 31-yard pass from Harrington with 6:38 left in the quarter.

Houston came right back, moving 82 yards on six plays, the last a 54-yard TD strike from QB David Carr to Andre Johnson, who beat Chris Cash to make it 14-10 with 2:31 left in the third.

The Texans' joy was short-lived, however, as Brown's ensuing kickoff was taken by Drummond (four returns, 39.3 average), who went 99 yards for a TD.

Houston covered 81 yards on 11 plays on its next drive, with Carr finding a hole in the Lions' zone coverage for a 27-TD pass to wideout Corey Bradford. Bradford beat Bracy Walker and backpeddled into the end zone 2:40 into the fourth quarter.

A failed conversion pass kept the Lions up 21-16.

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461.



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