Rodney Peete was on one knee, his head down, as if in prayer. Wayne Fontes scowled. Willie Green stomped halfway down the sidelines. Andre Ware threw his helmet. The crowd booed. The Lions’ half of the scoreboard read “0.”
All in all, a pretty good day for Barry Sanders’ contract negotiations.
Hey, if this is what the offense is like without him, he’s not asking enough at $4 million a year. He should ask for Ford — and GM, too. Who’s to argue? Minus Sanders, out with a knee injury, the Lions scored zero points Sunday and never got closer than 26 yards to the end zone.
His agent must be drooling.
“I told the defense they played a great game,” coach Wayne Fontes said after this ugly, 13-0 shutout by Minnesota. “The offense knows how it played.”
Shhh. They’re trying to forget.
Here was an afternoon when stars such as Rodney Peete, Lomas Brown and Herman Moore were supposed to pick up the slack for their missing running back, rise to the occasion, be all they could be. “We’ve got to step it up,” they said last week.
Was that step it up, or step in it?
This was bad. You saw it coming on Detroit’s first play from scrimmage, when Derrick (I’m Not Barry) Moore took the handoff, got smacked, went backward, then fumbled for a 12-yard loss.
Welcome to the Fun House.
But you know what? Moore did OK. When all was said and done, he rushed for 86 yards — which is more than Sanders got against the Vikings a few weeks ago. And Moore added six catches for 43 yards, best on the team.
So Derrick gets his paycheck.
Now. For the rest of you guys . . . Everybody’s a critic, even Peete
Let’s start with Peete. Fans do. In fact, they were booing Peete in the first quarter Sunday. By the second half, they were yelling for Eric Kramer
— or maybe it was Kramer from the TV show, I don’t know — and finally they were yelling for Andre Ware. Andre did come in, late in the game, and completed two passes. Unfortunately, one was to the Vikings.
Which was nothing new. Peete already had thrown four of those. Four interceptions? Yep. The last was taken by Minnesota’s Lamar McGriggs 63 yards into the end zone, so at least Rodney provided something that had been missing all afternoon: a touchdown.
“People will always blame the quarterback,” Peete said, after his 138-yard passing day. “If you don’t know that, you shouldn’t be playing the position.”
Not so loud. They might take you up on it.
Now, I like Rodney. I respect Rodney. This was not his finest day. He tried 30 passes, completed 18, got sacked seven times and intercepted four. Critics said he was telegraphing his passes — which he denies. The Vikings’ Jack Del Rio picked off two by himself.
“Was Peete telegraphing his passes?” Del Rio was asked.
He bit his lip. “Hey, he just had a rough day. Besides, Rodney went to USC, and I went to USC. You can’t get me to say something bad about a fellow Trojan.”
Great. Now he decides to be nice.
Here is a candid assessment of how Peete played: “A quarterback is supposed to move the team. A quarterback is supposed to get them in the end zone. (Rodney) didn’t play well. (Rodney) didn’t make the plays when they needed to be made. (Rodney) didn’t put the team in the end zone.”
Those are not my words; they’re Peete’s.
Never let it be said he wasn’t honest.
Nor was he totally at fault. The Lions’ coaching staff must share the blame for their game plan. The receivers didn’t exactly shine. And the offensive linemen played much of the game as if still at the Thanksgiving table: They let the guests go first.
The Vikings ripped through the Lions’ line so often, they should have paid a toll. The Windsor tunnel doesn’t see that kind of passage. Is it any wonder most of Peete’s throws went to the tight ends or the running back? He barely had time to wait for deep receivers to get open.
“What was wrong with the line?” someone asked Fontes.
“They didn’t block anybody,” he said.
I have nothing to add to that. Hey, they’re still in first — for now
I do have something to say about this often-heard quote in the Lions’ locker room: “We’re still in first place.”
Question: What do the Lions’ first-place status and a nice day in Buffalo have in common?
Answer: They are both temporary conditions.
The Lions better face that. They were 7-2. They are 7-5 now, tied with Chicago and Green Bay. They have played two straight at home and haven’t scored a touchdown in either one. They are predictable and vulnerable. There is little they can do, except pray for Sanders’ recovery and try a lot harder.
“To change our offense at this point would be insane,” Fontes said.
Same goes for keeping it.
All told, this was another mini-disaster for the Lions. It was also a subtle step in the Sanders negotiations. As the old farmer said when he stuck a “For Sale” sign in his front lawn and saw oil shoot out: “Folks, the price just went up.”
Barry stays out much longer, he’s liable to own the team. Mitch Albom will sign copies of “Fab Five” and “Live Albom III” Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Rochester and at 7:30 at Book People in West Bloomfield. Thursday he will sign at 7:30 at Jocundry in East Lansing.