ALLEN PARK - With only two games remaining in the season, there has been speculation that quarterback Joey Harrington and wide receiver Charles Rogers might be nearing the end of their Detroit Lions careers.
Harrington, the No. 3 pick in the 2002 draft, was the starter through most of his first three seasons and will get the start Saturday against New Orleans, although Jeff Garcia has been the starter through most of the second half of the season.
Rogers, the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, missed all except five full games of his first two seasons because of injuries and has gotten modest playing time this year after sitting out a four-game suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy.
Lions president Matt Millen, under siege himself in recent weeks for the team's fifth consecutive double-digit losing season, has not addressed the status of the two players but he might not be as eager to unload Harrington and Rogers as some might think.
Until the season ends - or perhaps until free agency begins - it remains a matter of speculation, however.
Harrington says he has considered the possibility that he might be on another NFL roster when the 2006 season begins. And he found it amusing that after being booed and insulted by Lions fans for two years, they were actually cheering him in the game Sunday against Cincinnati.
With starter Jeff Garcia struggling and the Lions trailing badly in the fourth quarter, interim coach Dick Jauron sent Harrington in early in the fourth quarter. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 77 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown to Rogers.
For one of the rare occasions since his rookie season, Harrington got cheers from the Ford Field fans.
"The last time I left the field after any significant playing time, they were chanting 'Joey sucks,' as I went up the tunnel," Harrington said in a radio interview this week.
"So it's funny. When I came into town, the first thing I was told is, 'We haven't had a quarterback since Bobby Layne,' and the second thing I was told is that the backup quarterback is going to be the most popular player on the team."
Going into the game Sunday, Harrington has a career 54.7 completion percentage with 57 touchdowns, 61 interceptions and a passer rating of 67.5. He was not a good fit for the West Coast offense as it was run by either of his Lions coaches - Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci - but Millen apparently has not soured on him entirely, believing he might be better suited to another style of downfield-oriented offense.
The situation with Rogers is similar. Because of two broken collarbones - one after five games of his rookie season and the other after three plays of the first game in his second season - he has never been able to get into a rhythm or a routine with his quarterback.
His touchdown in the loss to Cincinnati was only the fourth of his career but he has had little opportunity this year to prove or disprove the faith the Lions had in him when they drafted him in 2003.
Jauron was asked about the possibility of developing Rogers in the final weeks of the season and if he regretted not getting Rogers more involved in the Lions' offense in earlier games.
"No, I don't in the least," Jauron said. "You build a team through work. He was a guy I had no history with, here he was on suspension and coming back. He was inactive the first week and had to find a way to get on the field, whether it's through injury or work or somebody takes a step back. You get on the field and when you get there, you've got to perform. And if you perform, you'll get more opportunities. Really, that's our business."
Rogers said he has no control over what the Lions will do at the end of the
season but said he will continue to prepare himself to play.
In the meantime, the speculation continues.
SERIES HISTORY: 18th meeting. The teams are dead even at 8-8-1 after the
first 17 games. The Lions have won the last two games, in New Orleans in the
2000 season and in 2002 in Detroit.