WHY CAN’T IT ALWAYS BE THIS EASY? LIONS , CARDINALS

For one day, anyhow, this was how it was supposed to work. Young quarterback finding young receiver, building a rhythm, stacking up touchdowns.

Roy Williams was many things to Joey Harrington in Sunday’s victory – he had seven catches and three scores – but most important, he was reliable. Two springs ago, when he was drafted, Williams seemed preordained as Harrington’s favorite target. He was long, he could stretch, and if Joey’s passes were up or wide, Roy had the hands to pull them in and the strength to hang on.

Charles Rogers was a game-breaker, but Williams was a go-and-get-it receiver. In his Lions debut, Williams went and got one particular Harrington pass, making a one-handed, juggling catch that was all over the highlight films that night.

“Did you see that?”fans gushed. For the first time since Herman Moore, the Lions appeared to have a workhorse superstar as wide receiver.

As I said, that was how it was supposed to work.

It hasn’t followed the plan. After that fast start – two touchdown catches in his second game, nine receptions and two more touchdowns in his third game – things flattened. Williams got injured. He went up and down in subsequent weeks, and then, “I was done.”

He said this at his locker Sunday afternoon, when I asked why last season went south. “You hit that wall,” he said. “You want to go home. You really don’t want to be here. … I was done. Let me go back to Austin.”

OK, it happens to rookies, especially those who are not prepared for 17 weeks of an NFL season. This year, there was no excuse. Williams, Rogers and a third first-round draft pick, Mike Williams, were supposed to be the jewels of the offense. Yet before Sunday, the Lions’ wide receivers had just two touchdown catches – and none since Week 2.

“Everyone was on us,” Williams said after the Lions’ 29-21 victory. “Our teammates were on us. Our coaches were on us.”

Thankfully, the Lord created the Arizona Cardinals.

It’s as easy as 1-2-3

Against one of the worst teams in the NFL, the Lions finally got their passing train on track. And Harrington to Williams was a regularly scheduled route.

In the first quarter, Harrington found Williams in the back of the end zone with a high pass that the receiver bobbled, pulled in, then sweet-stepped to stay inbounds. Touchdown.

In the second quarter, Harrington found Williams again, wide open, and Williams fell into the end zone and posed like a man lying in bed with his head propped up. “I was just having fun out there,” he said.

The fun continued in the third quarter, as Harrington again found Williams with their longest connection of the day, a 29-yard stinger over the middle that Williams plucked from the high air. He banged into a defender, then fell into pay dirt.

Three touchdowns in one day? It had been 10 years since a Lions receiver did that.

“There’s something to be said,” Harrington quipped, “for having Roy back in there.”

The bad times fade for a day

Williams finished with 117 receiving yards, the second-highest total of his career and his best this season. It was a nice change for a guy who seemed to be doing more talking than catching.

Remember, earlier this season, Williams got into a sideline dispute with Kevin Jones during the blowout loss to the Bears. A few weeks later, Williams complained to Sports Illustrated that the Lions receivers lacked confidence in Harrington and he lacked confidence in them. As late as last week, Williams was beefing that he was underused in the loss to Minnesota.

But as author William Congreve might put it, touchdowns have charms that soothe the savage breast, and Williams was a happy camper Sunday.

“I don’t feel like I’m a first-round bust,” he said. “Nobody in our group feels like we’re a first-round bust. But we were trying too hard. …

“We need to make plays. … That’s our biggest thing. We’re called the playmakers, but we haven’t been doing it the first part of the season. It’s a new season, the second part of the season. The playmakers are back.”

We’ll see. Rogers didn’t light it up in his return Sunday. And Mike Williams is the latest to miss a game with an injury. Next week, the Cowboys loom, on the road, and Roy doesn’t even know who’ll be throwing to him.

“That’s not my call,” he said, when asked whether Harrington should get the start over Jeff Garcia. His job “is to catch the little brown ball.”

It seems clear Steve Mariucci would prefer a healthy Garcia. And Harrington, despite his best numbers of the year (22-for-32 for 231 yards, three touchdowns, no picks and a 120.7 rating), seems prepared to accept that.

But one consequence of bouncing your quarterbacks is the interrupted rhythm it causes your receivers. And Sunday, for once, we saw the rhythm the Lions had dreamed about – Harrington to Williams. This was how it was supposed to work. I hope we enjoyed it. Because we’ll soon find out if its best viewing disappeared with the Cardinals’ team bus.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com.

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