Parcells' option plays ground Jets

Week 17 In Review

December 23, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

In the harsh light of December football, certain truths emerged in Week 17 about the New York Jets and their self-absorbed coach, Bill Parcells:

(1) Parcells has next to no confidence in Neil O'Donnell as the quarterback of his team.

(2) Parcells can sometimes outsmart himself.

(3) The Jets will be home for the holidays.

That's what you can deduce from the Jets' 13-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, when Parcells' offensive strategy backfired in a major way.

So uncomfortable is Parcells with O'Donnell that he preferred to put the Jets' season in the hands of second-year man Ray Lucas and rookie halfback Leon Johnson rather than the quarterback who once took the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl.

Lucas, an option quarterback at Rutgers, and Johnson, an option quarterback in high school, both threw ghastly interceptions that killed the Jets' playoff chances.

But the option in this case belonged to Parcells, and not because he elected to kick off to Green Bay's Desmond Howard in the third quarter of last year's Super Bowl had he made such a grievous mistake.

Parcells inserted Lucas as an option quarterback for two plays the week before in a 31-0 romp over Tampa Bay. Lucas ran for one first down and barely missed a second.

This week, Parcells expanded the "package" and let Lucas throw, with good results (three completions) at first. Then came third-and-14 at the Detroit 29 with the Jets up 10-6 in the third quarter. Lucas threw deep down the middle for Fred Baxter, but misread the pattern and was intercepted.

The Jets had one more chance to pull it out, though. With three minutes left and a 13-10 deficit, they had first-and-goal at the Lions' 9. That's where Johnson, rolling right, tried to force a halfback pass between two defenders in the end zone. Cornerback Bryant Westbrook made the interception -- although replays showed it should not have counted -- and the Jets were done.

Parcells blamed Johnson for using poor judgment on the play, yet the coach was equally guilty. Now he has done irreparable harm to his relationship with O'Donnell, the former Maryland quarterback who almost certainly will be gone by training camp.

But it's not the first time Parcells made a mistake at quarterback. In 1983, in his first year as coach of the New York Giants, he chose Scott Brunner as his starter over a fellow named Phil Simms. Brunner produced 22 interceptions and three wins.

A year later, Simms pointed Parcells toward the Super Bowl.

Admitting a mistake

Fearful that Art Modell was about to raid their coaching staff two years ago, the Indianapolis Colts dumped Ted Marchibroda as coach and promoted offensive coordinator Lindy Infante.

Yesterday, in the wake of a 3-13 season, they acknowledged the error and fired Infante.

The history? Marchibroda had just taken the Colts to the AFC championship game and a near-miss against Pittsburgh. Soon after, Arizona hired defensive coordinator Vince Tobin as its head coach. Colts vice president Bill Tobin, who brought Infante in, was concerned that Modell, relocating the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, would steal him. (Infante had been an assistant in Cleveland.)

Colts owner Jim Irsay went so far as to quiz Modell on his interest in Infante. "I told Jim Irsay, 'No,' " Modell said recently. "I guess he didn't believe me. I think they were concerned I was going to take him. That prompted them to part company with Ted."

Inheriting Marchibroda's team, Infante started 4-0 in 1996, but then won only eight of his next 28 games. Not surprisingly, Tobin was fired along with Infante.

Swinging in the breeze

As if they hadn't already done enough, the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday played as if they wanted coach Barry Switzer fired. In a 20-7 loss to the Giants, they had more penalty yards (68) than offensive yards (63) in the first half, and finished with nine penalties and three turnovers. For the 10th straight game, they also gave up more than 100 rushing yards.

By most accounts, the once-proud Cowboys quit. Still, owner nTC Jerry Jones says he's going to take his time before deciding Switzer's fate. But you should not read too much into his timetable.

"It took a team effort, from the top on down, to win six games," Jones said.

Jones made an unusual visit to the coaches booth in the first half -- reminiscent of former Colts owner Bob Irsay's coaching visitation in Philadelphia in 1981 -- and then denied he jumped his coaches.

That will come later.

Not exactly Lionized

How's this for a surprise? The Lions-Jets game got a better audience (16.0 rating, 29 share) in Baltimore than the Ravens-Cincinnati game (12.4 rating, 25 share). And both were on NBC.

Best and worst

Best finishing kick: The Lions' Barry Sanders had just 23 rushing yards until the last play of the third quarter against the Jets. Then he broke a 47-yard run, and added 114 in the fourth quarter to become the third player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in one season.

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