The game sold out early. Fans were eager to see one of the be
FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) _ The game sold out early. Fans were eager to see one of the best quarterbacks of the 1980s, Warren Moon, against one of the top prospects of the 1990s, Drew Bledsoe.
Instead, they’ll get Cody Carlson vs. Scott Secules.
They’ll see two teams, Houston and New England, with 1-4 records. And they’ll watch the Patriots, who rarely have full houses at home, try to push a coach closer to unemployment for the second straight Sunday.
New England upset Phoenix and embattled coach Joe Bugel 23-21 last Sunday, but lost Bledsoe to a knee sprain for at least one game.
The next night, an ineffective Moon was replaced by Carlson in Buffalo’s 35-7 rout of the Oilers that did little for coach Jack Pardee’s job security. Pardee announced Wednesday that Carlson would start Sunday.
″We do need to break out of our cycle here,″ Pardee said. ″There’s not one person responsible for what’s happened here.″
Carlson, in his seventh season as Moon’s backup, started the last six regular-season games and led the AFC in completion percentage. But he has started only 12 non-playoff games in seven seasons as Moon’s backup.
He said being named the starter was ″something that I halfway expected, because we need to find something that will help us play a little better.″
Houston offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride called it ″a very desperate move,″ and Moon, who has thrown for 11 interceptions and just five touchdowns, said his pride was wounded.
″As for what happens now,″ Moon said, ″I’m going to do all I can to help this team.″
Secules will be making his first start in six NFL seasons. He spent three of them as Dan Marino’s backup in Miami and signed with the Patriots as a free agent.
New England coach Bill Parcells called his new quarterback ″high-strung,″ and Secules agrees.
″I just have a lot of energy,″ he said. ″That’s one of the things I have to guard against and be relaxed.″
He had taken only about a dozen snaps in practice this season before Bledsoe was hurt late in the first half. Secules did fine, completing 12 of 20 passes for 214 yards and the winning touchdown with 3:56 left.
Phoenix fell to 1-4. Bugel’s job, already considered in jeopardy, became shakier. New England, 2-14 last season, was happy to move up to 1-4.
Houston is devastated about being 1-4 after starting this season with championship aspirations. Pardee downplayed talk about his job status and relationship with fiery defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.
″Everybody likes to talk about it,″ he said. ″There’s really nothing to talk about. We get along fine. Everything’s fine. We’re just not playing very well.″
Houston will face a rebuilding Patriots team coming off its best game of the season. The Patriots gained a season-high 432 yards and revived their running game behind Leonard Russell’s 116 yards. The defense held Phoenix to 13 first downs and had two interceptions.
But Parcells knows the defense needs to be more alert to changing situations.
″We do a lot of stupid things,″ he said. ″We’re a reactionary team right now, rather than an anticipating type team.″
Houston’s defense has been a shocking disappointment. It was ranked third in the NFL last season. In its first year under Ryan, it is 18th.
″It’s surprised the entire league,″ said Patriots defensive end Mike Pitts, who played four years for Philadelphia while Ryan was head coach. ″I really don’t think it’s Buddy Ryan’s situation down there that has put that team in turmoil.″
This is the week the Oilers, more talented than the Patriots, have a good chance to get back on track. They still haven’t played a divisional opponent in the mediocre AFC Central.
It’s also an opportunity for the Patriots, on a long-term reconstruction project, to get short-term satisfaction by beating a struggling team.
″There’s a lot to do here, an awful lot to do,″ Parcells said. ″We’ll see whether we’re going in the right direction or not.″
The Oilers know they’re headed the wrong way after losing their last three games. They hope Carlson can change that. The last time Houston beat New England, 31-6 in 1988, Carlson started for Moon, who had a fractured shoulder.
″You always look to your best player (Moon) when things aren’t going right,″ receiver Haywood Jeffires said. ″You hate to see that when it’s your quarterback, but maybe it will be a spark that we need.″