ALLEN PARK - The growing speculation that indicated Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci would be out of a job has subsided. Drastically.
After reports stemming from several local Detroit media outlets following Thursday's 27-7 loss to Atlanta, the Lions have remained mum, but have demonstrated that the organization will take a "business as usual" approach.
And that means that Mariucci's job is safe. For now.
Lions president Matt Millen declined to comment on Mariucci's job status or whether Millen and team owner William Clay Ford will meet soon to discuss that particular subject.
But the poor performance on national television - in a game that is traditionally a showcase for the Lions - is the latest in a growing list of failures under the coach who was hailed as the franchise savior when he was hired nearly three years ago.
On his regular Friday morning radio segment on station WXYT in Detroit, Mariucci said he was not aware of talk that he would soon be fired, but it's hard to imagine he could feel secure with the Lions staggering into the final month of the season with a 4-7 record.
Lions players were certainly aware of the speculation regarding Mariucci's seemingly tenuous position.
"I don't know what's going to happen or anything like that, but nobody's stupid in here," offensive guard Damien Woody said in the Lions' dreary post-game locker room. "People know that, hey, things didn't go right. It was a pretty bad loss on national television. We'll see what happens."
Although Ford is generally reluctant to make a mid-season change it has happened in the past - most recently in 1988, when he fired then-coach Daryl Rogers and replaced him with Wayne Fontes with five games remaining in the season.
If coach Steve Mariucci does not survive, it appears defensive coordinator Dick Jauron would be the logical choice to run the team for the final five games of the season.
Jauron, who led the Chicago Bears to the NFC Central title with a 13-3 record in 2001, but was fired after the 2003 season, is in his second year as the Lions coordinator and is highly regarded by the players.
When he was asked Thursday if he had been approached about taking the job on an interim basis, however, Jauron responded: "Absolutely not."
Although the Lions defense did not play particularly well against the Falcons, it has been the strongest part of the team in what was supposed to be a breakout year for the Lions.
-- With only five games remaining in the season, the Lions have virtually played themselves out of the NFC North race with seven losses in their first 11 games, including the 27-7 thumping at the hands of Atlanta. It was, by all estimates, a new low-water mark for the season.
When the Lions opened the season with a 17-3 win over Green Bay, they felt they were on the way to fulfilling the high expectations growing out of the offseason player acquisitions. Since then, however, they have had three two-game losing streaks and have been unable to put together back-to-back wins.
At least one player - quarterback Joey Harrington - disagrees with those who feel the team's play has deteriorated in recent weeks.
"I don't think we've played worse and worse," Harrington said, in response to a reporter's question. "We've played consistently poorly all year long.
"Is it a shock to me? Yah, of course it's a shock to me. Everybody had higher expectations. Some more realistic than others but everybody had higher expectations than whatever we are right now - 4-7."
-- The quarterback question is at least temporarily on the back burner after the Lions 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Thanksgiving Day.
Because the Lions have a long three-day weekend - and the immediate focus on coach Steve Mariucci's job security - the Joey Harrington-or-Jeff Garcia question was almost lost in the aftermath of the disappointing loss in the nationally televised game.
Although Harrington was more a victim than a cause of the Lions' problems in the Atlanta game, he was benched for Garcia before the first half ended. Garcia put up adequate numbers but his performance was not up to acceptable levels.
He threw a deflected touchdown pass but was also intercepted and did not seem to have the mobility and escapability - perhaps because of on-going problems with his previously broken left leg - that made him effective in the past.
Mariucci, who insisted the Lions sign Garcia during the offseason, anointed him the No. 1 quarterback a month ago but after two starts Garcia has been sidelined with the leg injuries.
When asked Friday about his starting quarterback for the Dec. 4 game against Minnesota, Mariucci was vague. "I think Jeff's healthy," he said. "He played and I think he was -- what? -- 14 of 24 passing the ball. We'll see how he feels and we'll make a decision next week."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
-- QB Joey Harrington was benched late in the first half of the Lions' 27-7 Thanksgiving Day loss to Atlanta after completing just six of 13 passes. Although the numbers were poor, Harrington played much better than the numbers indicated. He had at least two passes dropped, he was intercepted when WR Roy Williams fell, he was sacked twice and the Lions inexplicably abandoned the running game less than a quarter into the game.
-- QB Jeff Garcia came off the bench in the 27-7 loss to Atlanta after missing three full games with leg injuries, but had no success in saving the Lions' Thanksgiving Day game. Garcia completed 14 of 24 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown but he was intercepted once and appeared out of sync with receivers after getting little work with the receivers over the past three weeks.
-- RB Kevin Jones went 20 yards on the Lions' second offensive play of the game Thursday and then carried only three more times in the 27-7 loss to Atlanta. Although the Lions were down by only two touchdowns midway in the second quarter, coach Steve Mariucci forgot about the running game and the Lions threw the ball 48 times. Jones apparently suffered a quad injury on his fourth and final run early in the second half.
-- CB Dre' Bly, playing for the first time since suffering a broken bone in his right wrist Oct. 23, was credited with defending two passes in the Lions' 27-7 loss to Atlanta. Both played probably would have been interceptions if Bly had not been playing with his right hand completely encased in a cast.
--WR Mike Williams, who was a healthy scratch in the Dallas game Sunday, returned to duty and caught six passes for 84 yards in the Lions' 27-7 Thanksgiving Day loss to Atlanta. The rookie receiver is the Lions' fifth-leading receiver with 25 catches for 308 yards and one touchdown.