Despite losing 24-23 last night against the Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions gave their fans a shot of optimism, thanks primarily to the play of first round draft pick Joey Harrington and offensive guard/tackle Kerlin Blaise.
Blaise helped to solidify the play of the Lions offensive line.
Starting at right tackle, the veteran from the University of Miami, who up to now, had started just four games in five seasons looked like a revelation. Blaise did not allow a sack and opened several hole for the running game. The presence of all-pro Ray Brown also must have lit a fire under guards Tony Semple and Brendan Stai. Stai working in combination with center Eric Beverly opened a huge hole that accounted for a 34 yard burst by James Stewart.
Blaise also shifted over to guard and played well in tandem with Victor Rogers. In short, the offensive line allowed just one sack all evening, while opening holes that allowed Detroit running backs to pile up 138 yards rushing.
Meanwhile, a full blown quarterback controversy might not even be necessary. Joey Harrington put on an eye-popping performance in defeat. Picking apart a good Cleveland defense, Harrington led Detroit to a touchdown on his first series in relief of starter Mike McMahon. The rookie completed 12 of his first 14 passes and ended the night 17-31 for 244 and 2 TDs. However, the rookie's chance to get his first come-from-behind pro win fell short when on 4th-and-10 fellow rookie Lebron Mitchell ran his route one yard short of the first down marker and stop short.
In contrast to Harrington's heroics, Mike McMahon started the game at quarterback for Detroit and while he was more effective than in his last outing against Baltimore, was unable to generate any offensive points until late in the second quarter. A 10-play drive got Detroit to the Cleveland 19, but reserve kicker Dave Pavich missed a 39-yard field goal attempt.
Cleveland took the lead on a 23-yard Pete Dawson field goal. Then, with Detroit pinned back at their own five, reserve punter Aaron Edmonds' kick was returned back to the Lions 27-yard line. Two plays later, backup QB Kelly Holcomb hit Duane Northcutt in the endzone for a 10-0 Browns lead. But McMahon, in his best series of the night, led the Lions back with a 30-yard TD pass to Mikhael Ricks to cut the lead to 10-6 after Dominic Raiola's bad snap muffed the extra point.
That's when Harrington started his heroics, going 7-of-8 including a touchdown pass to Scotty Anderson from 7 yards out to give Detroit a 13-10 halftime lead.
Cleveland adjusted its coverage and began coming with the blitz to pressure Harrington in the third quarter. Still Detroit's first possession yielded a 41-yard Jason Hanson field goal to increase the Lions lead to 16-10.
Kelly Holcomb brought the Browns back, after 20 yard completions to Frank Jackson and JuJuan Jackson, Holcomb found Mike Campbell for 1 18-yard touchdown pass to give Cleveland the lead 17-16.
But the Lions answered when Harrington hit Eddie Drummond on a beautiful long 30 bomb to put Detroit back in front briefly 23-17. But former LSU star Josh Booty, in his only series of the night, hit Dawson for a 27-yard game winning score.
The Lions can take solace, knowing they left four points on the field in the form of Pavich's chip shot missed field goal and a botched extra point from a backup snapper (Raiola).