Late last Thursday, after the Detroit Lions finished practicing
inside the Pontiac Silverdome, coach Wayne Fontes motored across
the turf in his golf cart. As he made his way toward his office,
Fontes stopped for a second and answered a few questions from
reporters. But before they could launch any serious inquiries
about his problems with quarterback Scott Mitchell or how his
team's mediocre start might affect the Nov. 5 vote on a tax levy
for a new stadium, Fontes was rubbing his ample belly and
filling the empty dome with his laughter. He had overdone it on
the kielbasa during lunch, you see, and needed to get going.
Fontes used just this sort of jocularity to deflect serious
scrutiny when Detroit started 2-4 in 1994 and 3-6 in '95. He
wound up guiding the Lions to the playoffs both times to save
his job, thus earning the nickname the Great Waynedini. But
after Sunday's 28-18 thumping at Green Bay, which dropped
Detroit to 4-5 and four games behind the Packers in the NFC
Central standings, Fontes's shtick has worn so thin that it can
no longer cover up the problems in Motown.
Outside the visitors' locker room at Lambeau Field, Fontes, who
is 66-65 with one playoff victory during his 8 1/2 years in
Detroit, was joking about his infected eye and promoting a new
slogan for the season's remaining weeks: Seven in a row.
Inside, his players were not in the same mood. "We are
definitely down," said All-Pro wideout Herman Moore, who on
Sunday caught only four passes for 50 yards. "And there isn't a
guy in this locker room, or a coach, who can stand here and
still tell you we're fine."
Even Fontes, who has proved to be the NFL's Lazarus, may not
recover from Week 10. On Monday, Oct. 28, he had to apologize to
Mitchell for having benched him in the middle of a series
during a 35-7 home loss to the New York Giants the day before.
Although Mitchell had thrown three interceptions, it was an
amateurish move to make him the scapegoat. Fontes's credibility
was crushed altogether that night when Mitchell showed up at a
team Halloween party dressed as the coach--his costume consisted
of Mickey Mouse ears, a cigar and a pillow stuffed under his
shirt--and mocked Fontes in front of the TV cameras.
November 11, 1996
Mitchell, however, may not have been finished humiliating
Fontes. Somehow, a strained rib muscle, an injury that occurred
during a noncontact drill last Thursday, kept him on the
sidelines for the most crucial game of the season. While Fontes
swore that Mitchell was in too much pain to throw, one Lions
assistant coach was questioning just how badly Mitchell was hurt
as late as Sunday morning. Detroit was left with noodle-armed
Don Majkowski to take snaps against the powerful Pack.
So Fontes turned to running back Barry Sanders, who had rushed
for more than 100 yards in only three of his last 13 games.
Sanders, though, was his old slashing self, finishing with 152
yards on 20 carries. The seven-time Pro Bowl back gained all but
two of Detroit's 68 yards in a second-quarter scoring march. His
18-yard TD run at the end of that drive left half the Packers
either flattened or hugging air, and it gave the Lions their
last lead, at 10-7. "Things aren't hopeless," Sanders was
assuring everyone last week.
They certainly looked that way in the game's final 40 minutes.
Both of the Packers' starting receivers were injured and
unavailable, but quarterback Brett Favre hooked up with eight
other players to shred the Lions' secondary (coached by Wayne's
little brother, John), throwing for 281 yards and four
touchdowns. If Detroit's players were paid each week based
solely on effort, as safety Bennie Blades suggested at a recent
players-only meeting, then the defense, which has given up 124
points in its last four games, had better plan a bake sale.
At the very least the Lions shouldn't be going through the
motions at the same time they're asking Detroit voters to fund
the final $80 million needed for two new stadiums (one is for
baseball). "We've got too many talented guys just picking up
checks," said Moore. "There is nothing more frustrating than
going out each Sunday and getting flat outhustled by a team with
less talent. That's the worst feeling of all."
But with Fontes out of gags and, more important, answers, it's a
feeling the Lions had better get used to.
COWBOYS at 49ERS
Dallas continues to hit the snooze button in '96, but in two
earlier must-win road games this year--at Philly and at
Miami--the defending champs' focus was Super Bowl-caliber. The
Niners have won seven of their last eight regular-season
matchups with Dallas.
BILLS at EAGLES
The Beasts of the Easts, AFC and NFC, respectively, are both
coming off their best wins of the year. Philadelphia quarterback
Ty Detmer is for real and so, still, is Buffalo's Jim Kelly. A
win would make the Bills 4-0 against the NFC East this season.
PACKERS at CHIEFS
Kansas City's aggressive cornerbacks, Dale Carter and James
Hasty, will make life miserable for Green Bay's second-tier
receiving corps. The Chiefs could pull off a mild upset if they
force a turnover or two.
RAVENS at JAGUARS
Vinny Testaverde (Baltimore) and Mark Brunell (Jacksonville) are
the NFL's passing-yardage leaders, but each lost to the Bengals
in his last outing. Ouch.
LIONS at CHARGERS
If I only had that offensive talent....That's what San Diego
coach Bobby Ross will be thinking during pregame warmups. Here's
a reason to tune in this Monday-night game: Lions running back
Barry Sanders versus Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, a matchup
that has never occurred outside the Pro Bowl.
HIS BROTHER'S KEEPER
Through three quarters the sibling skirmish being waged on the
Metrodome turf between Chiefs cornerback Dale Carter and Vikings
wide receiver Jake Reed had remained a stoic affair. As often as
not on Sunday, Carter, 26, would draw his older brother in
man-to-man coverage, jamming or grabbing Reed, 29. Carter had
made a pest of himself, as little brothers are wont to do, but
at least he had kept his mouth shut.
Until the fourth quarter. With Kansas City leading 21-0, little
bro began to woof. "Naw, big brother," Carter shouted as Reed
lined up across from him, "I got things sewn up on this side.
You best go to the other side of the field."
Let the record show that in Minneapolis, Carter, a two-time
All-Pro, was clearly his brother's keeper. On 29 of the Vikings'
57 offensive plays, Carter lined up across from Reed. (They are
full brothers, but their parents divorced in 1984, and Reed uses
the maiden name of their mother, Pat.) Of those 29 snaps, 23
were passes, six of which were intended for Reed. None were
completed: Two were uncatchable, Reed dropped one, Carter
deflected two more and safety Mark Collins intercepted another.
"Jake didn't see the ball much today," said Carter. "I got
bragging rights for a year."
Carter has held bragging rights in this fraternity since 1992,
when he was a first-round pick from Tennessee. That season Reed,
who had been drafted out of Grambling in the third round a year
earlier, had six receptions, whereas his precocious younger
brother had seven interceptions and was named the NFL's Rookie
of the Year. Even now, while Reed has emerged as a top
receiver--he is one of only 12 players with more than 200 grabs
since the start of the '94 season--Carter is encroaching on his
turf, catching five passes as a part-time wideout himself.
"Jake is very laid-back, very mature," says Pat Carter of the
second of her and Henry Dean Carter's five children. "Dale, you
always had to keep an eye on him growing up."
And still do. Since May 1993, Carter has received one year's
probation for driving while intoxicated in Kansas City; been
arrested and released for his involvement in a shoot-out outside
of a nightclub; and been convicted of assault in a bar fight and
given a 180-day suspended sentence, two years' probation and 40
hours of community service. "I'd phone him and remind him that
that's not the way Mama raised us," says Reed.
On July 12 Reed seemed poised to be able to keep even closer
tabs on his little brother. The Vikings signed Carter, then a
restricted free agent, to a reported three-year, $7.7 million
offer sheet. Two weeks later Pat received a visitor at her home
in Oxford, Ga.: Chiefs president Carl Peterson, who promised her
that the team would look after her youngest son as well as Reed
could in Minnesota. On Aug. 2 the Chiefs matched the Vikings'
deal and Carter re-signed with Kansas City.
"So I guess Jake and I will only be on the same field at most
once a year," says Carter. "Or maybe twice. If he makes the Pro
The Green Bay defense has become the newest Waterloo for
opposing quarterbacks. The Packers have held them to a
league-best 43.0 rating. The next lowest is the 49ers' 60.6....
The Seahawks' 23-16 upset of the Oilers was witnessed by the
smallest Kingdome crowd for a nonstrike game in team history,
36,320....Beleaguered Chiefs quarterback Steve Bono felt right
at home in Minneapolis. Some 10,000 fans from Kansas City
traveled to the Metrodome and loudly booed Bono during the
introductions....Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins reinjured
his left knee on a sack by Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith in
the third quarter of Atlanta's 20-17 win. Collins felt that
Smith's low hit was anything but clean. "He's trying to end
people's careers," Collins said. "There's no room for it. It's
cheap, cheap, cheap." Smith's reply: "Hey, [Carolina tackle]
Mark Dennis ought to do a better job of blocking."...The Jets
have been in last place in the AFC East for 31 consecutive weeks
dating back to 1994. The league's longest cellar dweller of the
1990s is Cincinnati. From '92 to '94, the Bengals spent 40 weeks
in the basement of the AFC Central....Bills coaches told Jim
Kelly to run the sneak in short yardage on Sunday rather than
disrupt their no-huddle K-Gun attack with substitutions. Kelly's
four sneaks were all good for first downs, including a four-yard
TD, in a 38-13 win over the Redskins.... Who says defense wins
games? The Vikings have held six of their last seven opponents
below 300 total yards; Minnesota is 3-4 in that span. And
despite allowing only one offensive TD in each of their last
three games, the Oilers have gone 1-2. --Richard Deutsch
Stat of the Week
Average total rushing yards of the Colts' Marshall Faulk over
his last 10 games: