(DETROIT, MI)-- An estimated 800,000 people crowded into Downtown Detroit to see the vision of former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer come to fruition, seeing the annual Thanksgiving Day parade and then walking a few blocks to see the Detroit Lions play in the annual classic.
The parade went well, but the game was a disappointment. Lions quarterback Joey Harrington threw three first half interceptions, that according to coach Marty Mornhinweg led directly to a "seventeen or twenty-one point difference." That was all the Patriots needed to post a 20-12 win over Detroit.
Despite the rookie's struggles, Mornhinweg said he never thought of pulling him out of the game and that this was all part of the learning process. New England cornerback Ty Law agreed. "They have a young quarterback and they are taking some bumps and bruises."
"When I made the decision to go with Joey, unless something really crazy happened, we were going to work through all his mistakes, period. So that's my thought process. It still is. There's a lot of bad things that a quarterback has to work through.
If I pull him out, he's not going to learn as much as keeping him in and grinding through it. This will not be the last time he throws three picks."
While it appears Mornhinweg is putting all his stock in Harrington's development, the Lions suffered their fifth straight loss, saw any thought of a playoff appearance disappear and doomed themselves to their second consecutive losing season.
And it didn't have to be that way. The Patriots showed up looking as if they ate too much Thanksgiving turkey. Every bit as sluggish as the Lions, the Patriots got an early 3-0 lead on an Adam Vinatieri 31-yard field goal. Then middle linebacker Teddy Bruschi picked off a Joey Harrington gift and took it 27 yards for a touchdown to make the score 10-0.
Detroit mounted their first successful drive of the game near the end of the first quarter culminating in a Jason Hanson 23- yard field goal to get within 10-3. Hanson became the all-time leading scorer in Lions history erasing Eddie Murray from the record books with his 1,115th career point in this game.
As the second quarter began, the Lions summoned up some of that Thanksgiving Day magic. Chris Cash, who is gaining more and more confidence with each game, picked off a Brady pass intended for David Patten and returned it eleven yards to halt a Patriots drive. But two straight Joey Harrington incompletions killed the opportunity.
But Chris Claiborne blocked a Ken Walter punt and tried to scoop it up to run but was unable. Still, Detroit had the ball deep in Patriots territory with a chance to tie the score. Harrington threw away the opportunity by trying to force the ball into coverage. Linebacker Willie McGinest got the easy interception and the Lions were halted once again.
With Detroit pinned inside their own 15-yard line on their next possession, Harrington, who said he was trying to throw the ball away, suffered his third interception. Four plays later the Patriots Antowain Smith took it in from one-yard out to give the Pats an insurmountable 17-3 lead. Detroit added a Hanson 45-yard field goal to end the half at 17-6. When Harrington trotted out to the Lions first possession of the second half, he was greeted with boos for the first time in his pro career. When he was pressured he threw the ball out of bounds to derisive cheers from the Turkey Day crowd who had seen enough of his act.
Some fans chanted for Mike McMahon, who made a nifty over the shoulder catch in a "slash" role for a nice gain.
Detroit put together their best drive, a 13-play 59-yard affair that resulted in another Hanson field goal to cut the lead to 17-9. Vinatieri answered for the Pats with a 29-yarder to widen the gap to 20-9 before Hanson was able to hit from 46 to bring the margin back to eight points.
With nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mornhinweg thought his team would get one last chance to tie the score with a touchdown and two-point conversion. "It was like slow death. Really, I thought we were going to get the ball back two or three times, at least."
Incredibly, the Patriots were able to salt away the last nine minutes of the game and the Lions never saw the football again. The clincher came with New England facing a 3rd-and-12 situation with just under four minutes remaining. Brady was able to find Troy Brown in front of Bracey Walker for a 17-yard gain and that was the ballgame.
With the playoffs and a winning season no longer in reach, Harrington was asked what's left to play for, "I don't care. I want to win," he said. "Why do your goals have to change? Every time I get on that field I want to win. I'm preparing to win, I'm playing to win and if it doesn't happen, I take what I learned from that game and apply it the next and try to win that one."
New England quarterback Tom Brady commented on Harrington's struggles "I remember last year at this point. Around the 12th or 13th game I was just dog-tired. I didn't know where I was going. I was so worn out and there were so many obligations you have and you're trying to just get prepared to play football. Usually, that's one of about thirty other things you have to do. I saw him after the game and I said 'it gets long, you've just got to say no to some things."
Several questions still remain for the Lions as a team.
Will they win a road game this season? Will they be able to attain the four or five win total that would show realistic progress from last season's 2-14 debacle? Will the team fold up and mail it in for the rest of the season as some have suggested and will Lions president Matt Millen and coach Mornhinweg survive another disastrous season?