Joey Harrington and Scott Mitchell: A Comparison

The 2005 season is supposed to be the year that Joey Harrington finally turns the corner and leads the Detroit Lions out of the bottom third of the NFL standings. Back in 1994, another quarterback in the ever growing line of Motor City QB saviors began his quest to do the same.

The 2005 season is supposed to be the year that Joey Harrington finally turns the corner and leads the Detroit Lions out of the bottom third of the NFL standings.

Back in 1994, another quarterback in the ever growing line of Motor City quarterback saviors arrived to try and put the Detroit Lions over the hump in their quest to end a now 47-year NFL championship drought.

Eleven years ago, in March of 1994, Scott Mitchell, a three-year backup in Miami who had thrown for 1773 yards, 12 touchdown and 8 interceptions for the Dolphins in 13 games for the injured Dan Marino in 1993; arrived in Detroit to replace the dispatched three-headed QB monster of Rodney Peete/Erik Kramer/Andre Ware.

The Lions and their then-head coach Wayne Fontes signed Mitchell to a three-year, $11 million contract, with a $5 million bonus (the second highest bonus in history to that point). Mitchell was a 26-year old former fourth-round pick with just seven career starts under his belt.

Mitchell joined a talented Lions' offense that included Barry Sanders, wide receivers Herman Moore and Brett Perriman, and offensive linemen Lomas Brown, Kevin Glover, David Lutz and Doug Widell. The Lions were also fresh off their second NFC Central title in three seasons (1991 and 1993) under head coach Wayne Fontes.

In 1994, Scott Mitchell was supposed to be the savior, the franchise quarterback, the final piece to the Lions championship puzzle. . . . He wasn't.

Now in 2005, Joey Harrington, in his fourth NFL season, is now supposed to be ready to make that same jump.

At least that what we're being told.

Harrington and Mitchell have a lot of similarities. They are/were both high priced quarterbacks who face/faced tremendous pressure from one of the toughest, and most loyal, fan bases in all of professional sports. They are/were both plagued by bouts of inconsistency, yet at times each player shows/showed the talent that got them their big contracts in he first place.

The pressure is on Harrington to produce next season, just as it was on Mitchell to produce during his days in Motown.

While it might be hard for some of you long suffering Lions fans to remember, Scott Mitchell at times did produce in a Lion uniform.

In his very first regular season start; he led the Lions to a 31-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Mitchell hit Anthony Carter with a TD pass in the final seconds of regulation to tie the score at 28. He then led the Lions on the game-winning drive in OT to set up Jason Hanson's game-winning FG.

In just his third game as a Lion two weeks later, on Monday Night Football in Texas Stadium, Mitchell went 13-27 for 173 yards and 2 TD's in helping the Lions defeat the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys in another OT thriller, 20-17.

There were other good games for Scott Mitchell along the way, too. The 24-16 home win over the Packers in 1995 (15-23, 249 yards, 3 TD's) (44-38 Thanksgiving Day win over the Vikings in ‘95 (30-45, 410 yards, 4 TD's, 1 INT). The memorable 14-13 win over the Vikings in Week 16 of 1997, when Mitchell hit his favorite target, Herman Moore, with a 1-yard TD pass with 3 ticks left on the clock.

There were also bad games. The playoff debacles against Philadelphia (a 58-37 loss in 1995) and the Buccaneers (a 20-10 defeat in 1997), where Mitchell threw a combined 1 TD and 5 picks. There were also four interception games versus the Vikings (17-13 loss in 1996) and the Packers (20-10 loss in 1997) along the way.

Then there was that pass in the flat in overtime against the Bengals in 1998.

My point is that while Scott Mitchell is, and will probably remain, the most hated Detroit Lions quarterback in history for the foreseeable future (right now somewhere Milt Plum is smiling); he still, to this point, has played better in a Lion uniform than Joey Harrington ever has.

Mitchell led the Lions to last second wins. Harrington has not. Mitchell won shootouts and close games against Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks like Troy Aikman, Warren Moon and Brett Favre. Harrington has yet to do so.

Mitchell led the Lions into the playoffs twice. Harrington has not . . . at least not yet.

Could that change next season? Of course it could.

Should that change next season?

For Joey's sake it damn' well better, or else Mitchell will be handing over his "Most Hated Lion QB Ever" championship belt to Joey early in 2005.

Yes I know that Mitchell had Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Brett Perriman, Johnnie Morton and a sometimes healthy David Sloan to play with.

Just remember that now Harrington has Kevin Jones, Roy Williams, Marcus Pollard, Mike Williams and a healthy for just five games Charles Rogers to play with.

With all this comparison, I must point out that there is one area that Joey, to this point in his career, has an edge over Mitchell – and no I'm not talking about the piano.

In 46 career games (2002-2004), Joey Harrington has averaged 178 yards passing-per-game.

In 99 career games (1991-2001), Scott Mitchell averaged 158 yards passing-per-game.

And we all thought that it was just the Lions' lack of talent and garbage offensive schemes that were hampering Harrington's development.

Now don't misunderstand, I'm in no way saying that Scott Mitchell is a better QB than Harrington. If I said that, I'd have to be committed to that same mental ward that every Lions head coach since Don McCafferty spent at least a cup of coffee in after their days on the Detroit sideline.

All I'm saying is that I've had enough of Joey playing like a "bad" Rusty Hilger. At this point if Joey just plays like "good" Scott Mitchell, it will be a step in the right direction.

Questions or Comments? You can reach Doug Warren at Lwarren12@juno.com

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