Joey Harrington was moving backward, much like his team, after another Dallas Cowboy intercepted another one of his passes. The Cowboy, Mario Edwards, was charging hard and Harrington, near the goal line, dropped to make a tackle. Forget it. Edwards burst through his grasp and was gone. Just like the game.

And just like the season.

Done. Finished. Over. It’s mop-up time now. The Lions’ year is not officially complete; you just wish it were. Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys not only left the team a miserable 1-5 — the only victory coming against the worst team in the league, excluding Detroit — but it also filled the booing Lions fans with something they didn’t figure to have so soon.

Buyer’s remorse.

They have it for the coach, Steve Mariucci, who has now helmed six Lions games and the team has gotten — who knew this was possible? — worse. His quarterback has less confidence than when he started, his receivers couldn’t shake salt much less a defender, his defensive backs are now watching Quincy Carter — Quincy Carter! — slice them to pieces, and when his players can’t come up with any new ways to screw things up, they draw penalties. On a Dallas field goal, the Lions were called for a unsportsmanlike conduct. On a field goal? The Cowboys scored a touchdown the very next play.

Outcoached? You bet they were outcoached. Outworked. Outsmarted. Outhustled, too. And across the sidelines, wearing headsets and a star on his jacket, was a guy who reportedly once wanted to come to Detroit and was rebuffed.

His name is Bill Parcells. His new team, barely better than the Lions last year, has won five games in a row and is atop its division. Detroit is in the basement.

I don’t want to say the contrast was obvious, but given the meek way the Lions played Sunday, you were tempted to call the game “Dallas Does Debbie.”

Parcells’ winning formula

Let’s ask the obvious: How can Parcells take over a bad team — 5-11 its last three seasons — and turn it around so fast, while Mariucci takes over a bad team and it is still, well, a bad team?

Answer: Parcells has done it before. He has a track record of rebuilding, in New York, in New England, and now in the Big D. He has a philosophy, an attitude, and, perhaps most importantly, a clear idea of what kind of players will win for him and what kind won’t. He has transformed Carter from a boo-bird favorite into an effective machine gun. He has no real running game
— same as the Lions — but unlike the Lions, he has receivers who can catch. So he plays to that. Remember, this is the same Parcells who once won a Super Bowl running Ottis Anderson until he dropped. He adjusts to his talent.

He also knows how to keep his team focused. Consider this: The Lions were coming off a bye week. They were rested. They were at home. The Cowboys just finished an emotional victory over Philadelphia, they have Tampa Bay next week, and they were on the road. And early in the game, Dallas fumbled and Detroit’s Dre’ Bly returned it 67 yards for a 7-0 lead.

That should have deflated Dallas and ignited Detroit. Instead, the Cowboys steadily overcame it, and the Lions imploded. That’s about mind-set.

And that falls on the coach.

“I take full responsibility,” Mariucci said after the 38-7 drubbing. “For the situations, for the energy, for the preparation, everything.”

And he should. Mooch’s honeymoon officially ended Sunday. No offense, but Marty Mornhinweg could go 1-5. Nobody in Detroit expected playoffs.

But they have the right to expect improvement.

Harrington reaches crossroad

Same goes for Harrington, who was all but booed off the field. He had five completions, one sack, no touchdowns and two interceptions, and was benched for the first time in his NFL career with a 7.1 quarterback rating for the game. Most people don’t understand that statistic, but they know 7.1 ain’t good.

Still, did anyone ever think Lions fans would have buyer’s remorse over first-round pick Harrington — in favor of Quincy Carter, a second-round pick out of Georgia? It only shows you what certain guys can do under certain coaches. Detroit may have a little quarterback controversy this week — not that Mike McMahon was any better; he came in during the second quarter and didn’t complete a pass until the fourth — which puts young Harrington at a crossroad.

But this job is his. Or it should be. Mariucci said, “We have two young developing quarterbacks,” and when I heard that, I winced. When a coach starts talking about two quarterbacks, it means he doesn’t have any.

If you ask me, Joey should get angry. Fight back. Be ticked off he was pulled. He was awful Sunday but his receivers aren’t helping. They drop his passes. They give him almost no separation. Somebody remind me exactly why Az-Zahir Hakim is getting all that money?

Besides, somebody needs to get angry around here — besides the fans. Sunday was as embarrassing as anything in the Fontes, Ross or Mornhinweg eras.

And that’s saying something.

“This game was surprising to me,” Mariucci said, “and I’m sure it was to everyone in that stadium.”

Speak for yourself, Mooch. This isn’t our first rodeo.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. “The Mitch Albom Show” is 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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