The quarterback was so hot, steam was coming from his head. He crossed his arms. He glared at his coach. He was in the building physically, but in his mind, he was packing his suitcase.

Congratulations, Wayne Fontes. Of all the boneheaded moves you have made with the Lions, this one tops the pile.

Here, in the second quarter of a collapsing game, you pull quarterback Scott Mitchell in the middle of a series, giving 63,000 angry fans a chance to shower him with boos as he runs off the field. Nice. I’m surprised Mitchell didn’t just keep going, right out the tunnel, into his car, and back to Utah.

Good God, Wayne, what in the name of simple, basic leadership are you doing? You don’t emasculate your quarterback like that. You might as well strap weights to his elbows and tie his legs together. Not only are you embarrassing him, embarrassing his replacement and pretty much sinking morale for the rest of the game, you’re also — let’s talk some football — confusing your offense. According to the players out there, none of them knew what was going on. “I was shocked when I saw (Don) Majkowski coming in,” Kevin Glover admitted. “I just assumed Scott was in for the rest of the series.”

And Glover snaps the ball!

Not surprisingly, the Lions went nowhere the next two plays, and then went less than nowhere. Mitchell, humiliated, heaved his helmet, yelled at Fontes as he passed, and pushed away players who tried to calm him. He fumed the rest of the half, alone on the sideline, an angry statue amidst the crushed paper cups.

Ladies and gentlemen, your franchise quarterback.

Meanwhile, if Mitchell’s teammates had been sinking with him, they went down like a rock once he was gone. Mistakes. Giveaways. And finally, surrender
— to a lousy Giants team. When the gun sounded, the stadium was nearly empty. I cannot recall a lower moment in the Wayne Fontes era than Sunday afternoon.

“Right now,” said Herman Moore, after the 35-7 thrashing, “I am sick of football. . . . By the end of this game, we were lucky if our relatives were still watching. Some of them might have walked out, too.”

A spark? He just lit Mitchell’s fuse

A few minutes later, Mitchell faced reporters. He was still red-faced at being yanked.

“I don’t agree with the decision,” he said, which is like saying Joseph McCarthy didn’t agree with communism. “There was a lot of football to be played at that point.”

Now, it’s true, Mitchell, with three interceptions in 19 minutes, had been horrible. But so had the offensive line. So had the receivers, who dropped passes or deflected them into the arms of defenders. So had the special teams. So had the defense. And Majkowski was no better when he came in.

None of that excuses Fontes. Come on, Wayne. You don’t send your starting quarterback in for one play, watch him throw an incompletion — he was under intense pressure — then pull him out and make him suffer that 40-yard jog from active to inactive. What if he had completed that one pass? Then you leave him in for one more? Or you give him two chances to make one, or three to make two? Is this a pro football team, or a ring toss at a carnival?

“I’ve made moves like that before,” Fontes said later. “I wanted to see if he’d get hot. I was looking for a spark.”

Lord knows he doesn’t have any in his game plan.

Hey. Either switch quarterbacks between series — and give your players a chance to talk to the new guy on the sideline — or stay with your starter. This Mitchell-Majkowski bugaboo was typical of Fontes’ regime. It’s a confused coach, making for a confused team. I am not absolving the players here. They stunk. Even Barry Sanders didn’t look like much Sunday. But the play-calling was horrible. (Sanders and Moore combined to touch the ball six times in the first half.) The attitude was worse. And those things come from the coaching staff.

“Every week we come out and don’t seem to know what’s going on,” Moore said. “We’re worse than Jekyll and Hyde. Jekyll and Hyde isn’t enough. You need to throw a few more personalities in there.”

Last year, Detroit had the NFL’s top offense. Sunday, it scored seven points against the Giants — at home!

Could be worse, won’t get better

And now Fontes has thrown a blowtorch on a straw pile. He insisted Sunday that he doesn’t have a quarterback controversy. He’s right. He skipped
“controversy” and went right to “disaster.” Mitchell, a soon-to-be free agent, is already prone to pouting. Now he has all these angry darts to throw.

And meanwhile, the Lions are 4-4. You know the worst part? There was Fontes, as usual, acting as if the record is no big deal.

“We’re 4-4,’ he said, “that’s not 2-6 or 0-8.”

It’s not 6-2 or 7-1, either, which is what this team should be. It is so infuriating to get this ho-hum approach to mediocrity, week after week. It’s as if the Lions don’t believe they’ll miss the playoffs. I have news for them. They are pretty much out.

Even if they win the games they should win the rest of the way, the Lions would need two upsets against Green Bay, San Francisco or Kansas City to finish 10-6. And since they have yet to beat a winning team, why should we hold our breath?

Answer: We shouldn’t. What we saw Sunday was a desperate act by a flailing coach, a terrible decision, made no better by the explanations afterward.

Fontes said: “Scott Mitchell will be my quarterback next week.”

I bet he can hardly wait.

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