Black-and-Blue Review

Now comes the big test: Can the Lions possibly start the season with three consecutive wins?

Detroit is off to their best start in four years with back-to-back wins against Chicago and Houston, an impressive run for a team that was 10-38 in its first three years under team president Matt Millen.

But can they go 3-0? If they do, it will be the first time a Lions team has opened the season with three consecutive wins since Billy Sims' rookie season in 1980, when they rushed out to 4-0 before finishing with a 9-7 record.

And it's not only the numbers that become more difficult in game three, it's the degree of difficulty.

The Lions will be at home Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, who will be coming off an emotional Monday night game against the Minnesota Vikings with a short week of preparation.

Two wins in a 16-game season doesn't have the Lions beating their chests but two wins - for a team that hasn't won more than five in a season since going 9-7 in 2000 - is encouraging.

Quarterback Joey Harrington has completed 62.7 percent of his passes in the first two games, has thrown four touchdowns against two interceptions, and has a passer rating of 93.8.

Most encouraging to coach Steve Mariucci, however, is the fact his rookies - wide receiver Roy Williams, running back Kevin Jones, linebacker Teddy Lehman, cornerback Keith Smith and linebacker Alex Lewis - are all stepping up and making early-season contributions.

If the Lions can get cornerback Dre' Bly back in another week or two from his sprained left knee and if outside linebacker Boss Bailey gets back from his knee surgery sometime in mid or late October, the Lions defense should make improvements also.

-- The perception nationally seems to favor David Carr of Houston as the best of the two quarterbacks taken No. 1 and No. 3 in the 2002 NFL draft.

And that apparently doesn't hurt Joey Harrington's feelings in the least.

In the category that means the most to Harrington, he and the Lions are 1-0 against Carr and the Texans after their first-ever on-field meeting last Sunday.

"We won it, 28-16," Harrington said. "There's your matchup.

"David played well. He's a great guy, I can't say enough about him and I wish him nothing but the best, but 28-16 is a matchup I like."

Since being drafted - Carr going No. 1 overall to the expansion Texans and Harrington going No. 3 overall to the rebuilding Lions - the performance of the two young quarterbacks has been remarkably similar.

Carr has a big edge in rushing yardage, Harrington has an edge in touchdown passes (33-20) and Harrington has a slightly better won-lost record. Harrington is 10-20 after beating the Texans; Carr is 7-22 after the loss.

For most of the preseason and in their opener against Carolina, the Packers played stubborn run defense.

On Sunday, they were overrun by the Bears. Thomas Jones carried 23 times for 152 yards, the most any back had against Green Bay since Detroit's Barry Sanders gained 155 in Week 6 of 1998. As a team, the Bears had 182 yards in 35 attempts for a 5.2-yard average.

"We gave up too much in the rush department," coach Mike Sherman said Monday. "We didn't react well to the schemes they were running."

The Bears are running an offense almost identical to the Kansas City Chiefs'. Their new coordinator, Terry Shea, tries to conceal his intentions with constant shuffling of personnel.

"I don't know if their motions and formations took us out of our downhill mentality or not," Sherman said. "We just didn't fill our gaps."

Jones burst up the middle for 54 yards on a third and 1 to start the third quarter, setting up his 1-yard touchdown run and giving the Bears a 21-3 lead. On the play, the Packers stunted the line. Linebackers Na'il Diggs and Nick Barnett were blocked and the two safeties, Darren Sharper and Mark Roman, took themselves out of the play by improper positioning.

Now the Packers must get ready for Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and the Colts Sunday in Indianapolis.

--Center Mike Flanagan sat out the final series for the second straight game and was replaced by Grey Ruegamer. He has been bothered by patellar tendinitis for about a year.

"It will bother him all year," coach Mike Sherman said. "We rested him in preseason. He's playing with it. He's still a very talented player. He's a little bit limited this year. He doesn't have quite the strength he did a year ago."

Sherman said it was possible that Flanagan will undergo surgery after the season.

--Tackle Kevin Barry missed the block on the goal line that permitted middle linebacker Brian Urlacher to sail through the C gap and drill Ahman Green in the backfield on the key play of the Bears' 21-10 victory. Green fumbled and safety Mike Brown returned it 95 yards for a touchdown.

In as the third tight end on the right side, Barry stayed with defensive end Adewale Ogunleye too long before trying to get off on Urlacher. By the time he lunged at him it was too late.

"It was a heck of a hit by Urlacher," Sherman said.

--Green was carrying the ball with his left hand on the crucial play. That was the side closest to where Urlacher came from. Had he been carrying it away from traffic, there's a good chance the fumble wouldn't have occurred.

"His left hand is his dominant hand," coach Mike Sherman said. "That fumble was an unfortunate fumble. If you start messing with that you can cause problems. We tried to do that at one time and it's not the best thing."

A new controversial twist was added to the NFL's instant replay system Monday night when six Vikings assistants sitting in the Lincoln Financial Field press box didn't get a television replay of Terrell Owens' juggling, game-clinching touchdown during the fourth quarter of the Vikings 27-16 loss.

ABC-TV showed the replay only once before the extra point. According to Vikings coach Mike Tice, the monitor in the Vikings' coaching booth went blank during that replay.

After a television break, ABC showed the replay several times. Owens didn't appear to have control of the ball as he went out of bounds just inside the front right pylon on a 45-yard score that gave the Eagles a 24-9 lead with 7:40 left in the game.

Vikings coaches saw those replays and told Tice he should have thrown his challenge flag. By then, it was too late.

"Obviously, if I knew what I know now, I would have thrown the flag," Tice said Tuesday. "But with the naked eye from the booth and from myself on the sideline, and from trying to monitor the players' response or any of that going on, I didn't see or hear anything that would allow me to throw the flag out until after the fact."

Give Tice credit for his honesty. Although the play certainly should have been reviewed, it isn't a slam dunk that it would have been overturned. Looking at the replay, it's possible officials would have ruled in favor of the Eagles because Owens might have broke the plane of the goal line with possession of the ball.

The play happened quickly and was on the other side of the field. And Tice is accurate in saying no Vikings' players reacted as if the play should have been reviewed.

Tice trusts his players' reactions when replays aren't shown quickly enough. For instance, Tice hurried the offense onto the field Monday with a basic dive play called "Viking" after defensive players suggested free safety Brian Russell might have been out of bounds on a fumble recovery.

"Of course, Onterrio (Smith) fumbled the ball away on the play," Tice said. "But the point is that's good communication by the players, to let us know a play might be close and that we need to run another play quickly."

Tice said one of the "loopholes" in the system is the consistency of how television replays are shown in the coaches booth. Some stadiums use the television feed, while others use the in-house feed, which doesn't show commercials and has been known to go black when there isn't action, according to the Vikings.

Further complicating the system are players such as Owens. Considering Owens' unpredictable nature, ABC obviously wanted to keep the cameras rolling on him rather than show one quick replay. Never know when Owens might pull out the Sharpie, right?

The Vikings already have three assistants looking for challenge possibilities.

-- The Vikings were 5 for 5 on red-zone touchdowns against Dallas in Week 1 and then 1 of 5 against Philadelphia on Monday. "It's frustrating because we consider ourselves the best offense in the NFL," WR Nate Burleson said. "We want to be the leaders. When we can't get the ball in the end zone, it's very frustrating." The Vikings had first-and-goal at the 2 twice and settled for one field goal. Culpepper lost a fumble on the other drive.

-- Moss caught a touchdown at Philadelphia, giving him seven consecutive games with a touchdown. That ties a team record he shares with Cris Carter. Moss also has caught a pass in all 98 regular season games he has played.

-- Newly-signed CBs Terrance Shaw and Ralph Brown contributed immediately at Philadelphia. Shaw played nickel back, replacing the struggling Rushen Jones. "Shaw looks good," coach Mike Tice said. "He's a player." Brown played on special teams and made a nice tackle on kickoff coverage. "That kid has some juice," Tice said.

-- Former second-round draft pick Raonall Smith, who was in danger of losing his job on the final cuts, now leads the Vikings in special teams tackles with five. "Raonall is getting some confidence," Tice said. "He's got great size running down the field on coverages."

"Injuries are a part of the game, and they are hitting everybody right now. I guess it's a good thing that we're getting injuries where we have the depth." -- Tice after the Vikings learned OT Mike Rosenthal (foot) and TE Jim Kleinsasser had been be placed on injured reserve, ending their seasons.

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