The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

BILLS ZERO IN ON JOEY

A week after the Dolphins beat up the division-leading Patriots 21-0, the lowly Bills did the same to the Dolphins. In doing so, the Bills “zeroed” in on the enigmatic Joey Harrington who was mercifully pulled with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. At the time, his quarterback rating for the day was a perfect zero (0.0). It’s not an easy feat for an NFL quarterback to have a rating of dead zero, but Joey did it by throwing for a meager total of 20 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. He completed only 5 of 17, a mere 29.4% completion percentage. Although he was not helped by his teammates who fairly consistently dropped passes, most of these passes were for such short yardage that his overall statistics would not have been much better anyway.

Joey’s horrendous performance was somewhat of a surprise after most of the games he has played over the last 6 weeks, but it probably won’t come as a shock to anyone in Detroit where he consistently underwhelmed the local fans during the last four seasons he spent with the Lions. Joey has been consistently inconsistent this season. With the Dolphins, he has often been Dr. Jeckle in one half and Mr. Hyde in the other. This Sunday, he was ugly from start to (almost) finish when the game was out of reach and Coach Saban decided either to yank Joey for his own good or to see what newcomer Cleo Lemon could do in game conditions (or both). By the way, although such garbage–time performances are always subject to interpretation, Lemon was 9-16 for 98 yards and almost broke the shutout, but was stopped at the 1-yard line when time ran out.

The Fins, who had been practically eliminated from the playoff race two weeks earlier in a disappointing loss to the Jaguars (which largely resulted from another bad game by Joey Harrington), have now been mathematically eliminated, too. The year that began with the promise of Daunte Culpepper and the tease of Sports Illustrated’s prediction has now officially burned to the ground. And with it another precious year of Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor is gone, too.

Sunday’s game in Ralph Wilson Stadium started off well. Sammy Morris ran with success in the first quarter and had the Fins on the move. However, the Fins saw their first two drives stall on unsuccessful fourth down plays in Buffalo territory. In the NFL it seems as though when you move the ball well and cannot score, it usually comes back to haunt you. That was certainly the story against the Bills. While the Fins were running the ball almost at will in the first quarter, the Bills at the same time were held to -3 yards of total offense. However, the Bills got on track in the second quarter, scoring a touchdown thanks to blown coverages by Andrea Goodman and Yeremiah Bell on two separate plays. Goodman would strike again in the second half when he got beat for a touchdown.

With the playoffs now in the rear-view mirror, the Nictator must look seriously at next year. We have already seen him place Daunte on IR which would seem to be his recognition that there is no sense in risking further harm to the psyche or body of his potential future franchise quarterback. The same consideration might apply to Ronnie Brown who is still recovering from surgery. The countervailing consideration in Ronnie’s case is that he is still only a second year player who may benefit from having more game experience under his belt. Still, it would seem best to let him fully heal and not risk any further injury in the last two meaningless games.

As to whether or not to put the ball in the hands of Cleo Lemon, the choice seems obvious. Coach Saban has 4 years of Lions’ films in addition to 10 game films from this year to fully evaluate Harrington. What more does he need to know about Joey? On the other hand, he still needs to know if Cleo has a chance to develop into either a good backup QB or into a future starter. The only way to find out is to give Cleo the ball. For sure, the next 2 games will be a lot more instructive for that purpose than would next summer’s pre-season games. So why not zero in on such an opportunity rather than have the Jets and Colts “zero” in on Joey?

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