CAN ANYBODY FIGURE LIONS’ QUARTERBACKS?

First of all, before anyone accuses me of being a party pooper, I want to congratulate the Lions for beating the Atlanta Falcons and proving to the world Sunday that just because you like to beat the crap out of people doesn’t mean you always win. I should add that I was in the elevator after the game when one of Atlanta’s assistant coaches, Jimmy Carr, started yelling at the Lions’ assistant coaches and then some fan gave him lip and by the time we reached the bottom floor this guy Carr was waving his fists and croaking,
“What did you say? What did you say?” like some drunk in a bar. And then he attacked the elevator door. Really. He started punching it.

Geez. Give a guy a free ride and he’s still not happy.

Which brings us to the Lions’ quarterback situation, about which, as in the elevator, no one seems happy. And this is after a victory. Here is what you heard in the quarterback corner of the Lions’ locker room, where reporters crushed in to speak to: a) Rodney Peete; b) Bob Gagliano; c) Andre Ware.

PEETE: “It’s tough. Every time you have a bad series you look over and see Bob warming up and wonder if you’re coming out of the game.”

GAGLIANO: “It’s tough. You have to be ready to go in, and yet you don’t want Rodney to worry that his next bad pass means he’s coming out.”

WARE: “It’s tough. I’m ready to play. I thought for a minute there I might be going in.”

Hmmm. Wayne Fontes insists there is no quarterback controversy on this team.

But the ground sure is fertile.

They boo Peete and Gagliano

Now, this is no fun. I’ve never known a city where guessing who should play quarterback results in anything good. Mainly, what you get is fan reaction like we had Sunday at the Silverdome, where the crowd cheered Peete when he ran onto the field to start the game, and by the third quarter, they were booing him, and then they cheered when Gagliano came out, and a few plays later, they booed him, too.

Of course, all of this could have been avoided had Peete managed to play the second half the way he played the first. What’s going on here? For the second week in a row, Rodney played Jekyll and Hyde with his performance, completing 13 passes for two touchdowns in the first half and completing no passes and throwing an interception in the second. Peete seems to run out of fuel when the marching band comes out. Maybe he’s not eating enough carbohydrates.

“I just have to concentrate more,” he said, trying to remind himself, as everyone seemed to be doing, that the Lions won this game. Last week against Tampa Bay, Peete got clubbed on the head by a defender and was lucky to remember the game. This time, however, he remembered everything, including the moment Fontes pulled him aside with 9:38 left and Detroit clinging to a seven-point lead and said, “Rodney, I’m going with Bob.”

Ouch. That stings.

But before we get on Fontes too much — and he did say Peete will start next Sunday — think about it: Sure, you want your quarterback to feel confident. But you also want to win the game, right? And with 9:38 left, there was no guarantee Peete would do that. He was getting sacked and overthrowing receivers. He was 0-for-5 in the half. So you ask yourself as coach, what’s more important: a few hurt feelings, which you can fix during the week; or a loss, which you can’t do anything about all season?

“My quarterbacks have to be more efficient,” Fontes said afterward.
“That’s quarterbackssss. With an ‘s.’ “

You see where he stands.

Best second-half drive on penalties

And then there is the question of Ware, which is also the question of where. And when. And maybe even why. While Peete and Gagliano, who are chums off the field, try to earn their paychecks and not hurt each other’s feelings, here is rookie Ware, whose check is twice the size of theirs combined, and he’s tapping his foot and whistling “Get Ready” by the Temptations. (Actually, I just made that up.)

But the point is, what did anyone expect? If Fontes honestly thought Peete or Gagliano was the greatest thing since the nonbreakable whistle, he never would have drafted Ware, right? Andre knows this. And deep down, so do Peete and Gagliano, and it has to hurt when they think about it.

Which I guess is part of the reason the Lions’ locker room seemed so subdued after their first victory of the season. Maybe it hurt that they didn’t score in the second half. Maybe it hurt that their best offensive movement that half was 30 yards on two Atlanta penalties.

Maybe it was because, for the second week in a row, Barry Sanders, the best rusher in the NFL, looked confined and misused by this run ‘n’ shoot offense, which is yet to become the firecracker that Mouse Davis keeps promising. And it’s been what, 18 games already?

Whatever. A win is a win, right? And again, I want to congratulate the Lions and especially Chris Spielman and the defense, and I also want to say to Jerry Glanville and his assistant, Carr, the guy in the elevator, thanks for coming, and I’m sure there’s a nice padded cell someplace where you’ll both be happy.

As to the happiness of the Lions’ quarterbacks? Well, maybe next week, huh, fellas?

Uh . . . fellas?

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