No QB switch for Thanksgiving game vs. Colts
Despite a four-game losing streak, and a corresponding slump by Joey Harrington, the Detroit Lions will not make a switch at quarterback for their Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.
For now, the starting job remains Harrington's, but he might need a bit of the traditional Thanksgiving magic that has often defined the Lions' annual holiday contest to retain the top spot on the depth chart much longer. Detroit hasn't won since defeating the New York Giants on the road Oct. 24, a victory that raised the Lions' record to 4-2, and Harrington has been sporadic during the ensuing losing streak.
Most people suffer a Thanksgiving hangover. Harrington is hopeful that the game will snap the Lions offense from its tryptophan-like malaise of the past month.
"I think maybe the one thing that may be good is playing on Thanksgiving," Harrington said, after it was determined Monday that he will keep his job for at least one more game. "It has a way of bringing out the best in this team. It has in the past, at least. ... There is something about this town on Thanksgiving. The whole country is watching, and that gives you a little extra motivation."
Then again, motivation should not be that difficult a commodity to locate for Harrington, who has started the last 26 games but is now looking over his shoulder.
Backup Mike McMahon, the starter when Harrington arrived as a first-round choice in the 2002 draft, logged increased practice time last week. Even with the short preparation time for the Thanksgiving game, McMahon will get additional work with the No. 1 offense this week, although coach Steve Mariucci has acknowledged he isn't inclined to make a change during a game unless the contest is out of reach.
Said Mariucci, who has adopted a big-picture approach to the offense but allowed that the quarterback position must be examined: "It's a matter of seeing how we are as a team, seeing how we're playing, the score of the game, the efficiency of the position. If we feel a spark is needed, or something, we'll consider it."
Another spotty performance by Harrington, though, and McMahon could move into the starting job by the Dec. 5 game against Arizona. After the Thanksgiving matchup, Mariucci and his staff will have ample time (10 days between games) to evaluate Harrington and the overall quarterback situation.
There have been 19 quarterback switches through the first 11 weeks of the season, and nine of them were non-injury-related changes.
Although the Lions' current offensive slump is not solely attributable to Harrington, the dismal output in the four-game losing streak reflects his subpar performances. During the losing streak, Harrington completed 68 of 136 passes for 736 yards, with four touchdown passes and four interceptions.
Those numbers include an 11-for-33 outing against Washington two weeks ago. In the past two games, Harrington has thrown for just 212 yards, including only 91 yards in last Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings, a game in which Detroit led by 12 points going into the fourth quarter.
Mariucci conceded that Harrington has not made enough plays in the past three games, a stretch in which the Lions' offense has registered just two touchdowns, and the Detroit quarterback has acknowledged that, as well.
In the 28-13 victory at Giants Stadium, Harrington was superb, completing 18 of 22 passes for 230 yards, with two touchdown passes and no interceptions. In truth, he missed on just one pass in that game, since he had two "throwaways" and another ball dropped on him. Harrington played within himself that day, using the weapons around him and demonstrating great patience.
But whatever progress Harrington displayed versus the Giants has been overshadowed by the last four outings.
This is viewed as a critical season for Harrington and the Lions. The team has attempted to surround Harrington -- a talented quarterback, but not generally viewed around the NFL as an elite player, one who can win games on his own -- with upgraded weaponry in the past two years. While the Lions have more playmakers now, that hasn't translated into more consistency at the quarterback position.
A former Oregon star, Harrington was the third player chosen overall in 2002, amid some disagreement in the Detroit front office. He assumed the starting job in the third game of his rookie season and has held it, except for injuries, ever since.
The pressure on him aside, and despite the rumors he is under heavy scrutiny, Harrington insisted he does not feel as though he is playing for his job.
"I'm not playing like I'm playing for the job," he said. "I'm playing for this team. I'm playing to continue to be the quarterback on this team. We need to improve as a team and as an offensive group, and I'm going to continue to play that game."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .
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