Detroit must protect Joey from rampaging Bucs

The Detroit Lions better get into "max protect" and try to save rookie quarterback Joey Harrington from that marauding band of Pirates that just way-laid two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL; Brett Favre of Green Bay and Michael Vick of Atlanta.

(ALLEN PARK, MI)—You think things can't get any worse in the Detroit Lions camp?

Imagine what would happen if "Joey Franchise" got hurt?

What is already a disaster of a season would get much worse if Harrington suffered anything other than a hangnail.

After all, the future of the entire franchise hangs on how quickly Harrington can turn into a major star and an impact player in the NFL.

So forget about devising a game plan to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3) this Sunday at Ford Field. The Lions (3-10) have about as much chance of winning that game as you have of hitting the lottery this Sunday.

Detroit better get into "max protect" and try to save Harrington from that marauding band of Pirates that just way-laid two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL; Brett Favre of Green Bay and Michael Vick of Atlanta.

The Bucs harassed Favre into a four-interception performance in their 21-7 win over Green Bay. Tampa ran roughshod over the entire Green Bay roster and then defensive tackle Warren Saap took aim at the coaching staff.

Saap exchanged angry words with Packers coach Mike Sherman over his hit of offensive lineman Chad Clifton on one of Favre's interception. Saap was incensed because he felt could have taken on Favre on the interception run back, after all, he was fair game. Instead, Saap passed on Favre and hit Clifton.

Then there's Falcons' second-year quarterback Michael Vick. Vick said in the days leading up to his team's rematch with Tampa (after being knocked out of the first contest, a 20-6 loss) that this would be his best game of the season. Instead, Tampa limited the league's best rushing quarterback to 15 yards, sacked him twice while hurrying and knocking him down on  several more occasions. Sufficiently humbled after the game, Vick admitted the Tampa defense was better than he expected.

"There was nothing I could do. They kept me contained," Vick stated. "They have speed that other teams don't have. When you have a defense with guys that can move around and can run just as fast as the guys you have on offense, you are going to have to fight for everything you can get."

Enter Harrington. After a fast start against New Orleans and Green Bay in his first two appearances as a pro, "Joey Ballgame" seems more concerned with eliminating sacks and turnovers than making plays to win games. That is what he's being taught to do by coach Marty Mornhinweg, get the ball out quickly and avoid turnovers.

In fairness to Harrington, he's making quick decisions sometimes against defensive schemes not easily recognized. Still, you'd like to see the rookie take more chances and make some plays. After all, a loss is a loss.

It's tough to blame Mornhinweg, too. After all, his future is directly tied to Harrington's, but not vice-versa. If the rookie gets banged up, or worse yet, suffers a major injury trying to win meaningless ballgames in December, Mornhinweg's going to shoulder the blame for it.

Then when you stare at the opposing defensive front and see Simeon Rice with 14.5 sacks, Warren Saap with 7.5 and the #1 defense in the NFL on the other side, while you're staring at a 3-13 finish, it's tempting to pack it in.

For all intents and purposes, the season's over for Detroit. Why, they might even want to get Mike McMahon, Harrington's backup and the early season starter, some snaps before it ends.

So if Joey gets a little tweaked in this one, and McMahon gets some action, don't be surprised. McMahon's the past. Harrington's the future.

Mornhinweg hopes he has a future. It starts with protecting Harrington.

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