QB bounces back from 'tough week'

One day after hearing a pep talk that could have been directed at him, Joey Harrington came through for the Lions.

Updated: October 24, 2004, 11:28 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In his Saturday night address, coach Steve Mariucci reminded the Detroit Lions that, like most youthful assemblages, they were subject to inconsistency. He talked about ups and downs, invoked the old roller coaster analogy, spoke of highs and lows.

And, no, he wasn't eyeballing Joey Harrington as he delivered his soliloquy.

Given the track record of the Lions' third-year quarterback, however, Mariucci could have narrowed the focus of his team-wide message specifically to Harrington, who still seems to be an enigma at times.

Joey Harrington
APJoey Harrington is having another difficult season for the Lions.
Whatever Mariucci's intent, the words apparently stuck with Harrington, who, in the Lions' 28-13 win over the New York Giants, arguably played one of the steadiest games of his career.

Coming off what Mariucci benevolently called a "tough week" -- having completed just 12-of-23 attempts for a paltry 101 yards in last Sunday's abhorrent 38-10 loss to Green Bay -- Harrington wasn't scintillating. But he was solid throughout, completing 18-of-22 for 230 yards, with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a healthy 140.5 passer rating.

"Some days it's on and some days it's off," shrugged Harrington after the game when asked about his accuracy. "And it's my job to fight through it no matter what is happening. … Everybody knows that you're not going to go out and play the perfect game every single time out there."

Truth is, the Lions organization would settle for merely proficient, not necessarily perfection, from Harrington most weeks. Unfortunately, there have been too many times in the first 34 starts of Harrington's pro career when his performance hasn't reached even that lesser level of excellence.

In the victory over the Giants, though, the former University of Oregon star was far closer to dutiful than dubious. He called a good game, threw the ball well and, for the most part, stayed away from mental and physical miscues. Despite being sacked three times, Harrington never appeared anywhere near as rattled as Giants counterpart Kurt Warner, and he seemed to read the New York secondary extremely well at critical times.

"From the very first play," said Lions standout rookie wide receiver Roy Williams, "Joey was in charge and on his game."

That play -- a 24-yard completion to tight end Stephen Alexander, who found an opening deep up the right seam and settled nicely into the void there -- seemed to set a tone for the Lions offense and its quarterback. On repeated occasions, Harrington took advantage when the Giants secondary was aligned in Cover 2 looks. And it certainly had to buoy his confidence that Detroit went 70 yards on its initial possession, Harrington finishing off the drive with an 18-yard laser to Williams on a slant to the right side.

On that series, Harrington thrice converted key third-down plays, all of them of six yards or more. He flipped a screen to the left to tailback Shawn Bryson on third-and-15 from the Lions' 49-yard line, a play good for 19 yards. On third-and-10 at the New York 32, he connected with wide receiver Reggie Swinton for 10 yards on a slant. And the touchdown pass to Williams came on third-and-six.

The completions to Swinton and Williams, in particular, were thrown with muscle, moxie and determination, passes on which Harrington put the ball in very small spots. Perhaps just as impressive as several of Harrington's completions was the fact he wasn't careless with the ball, and he twice took sacks rather than try to make a play out of nothing.

It didn't hurt, either, that the lackluster Detroit running attack, ranked 31st in the league entering the game and averaging only 76.4 yards per outing, found its legs in the second half and finished with a respectable 115 yards. First-round tailback Kevin Jones, despite missing the last 1½ quarters with a recurring leg problem, rushed for 65 yards.

For the most part, though, it was Harrington who impressed. And for the most part, it seemed, it was Harrington who heeded Mariucci's pep talk on Saturday night. The Lions coach called the performance Harrington's best of the season but then amended that to note it might have been the best during the Mariucci regime.

Now the trick is for Harrington, the third player chosen overall in the 2002 draft, to repeat that kind of performance again.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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