PONTIAC, Mich. — For the first time in 12 years, Detroit Lions quarterback Joe Ferguson is having to fight off a serious challenge to remain a starter in the National Football League.
Ferguson was the automatic first-stringer during his 12-year career with the Buffalo Bills, but preseason competition from veteran Eric Hipple has placed him in the unfamiliar position of having to prove himself.
In past seasons, Ferguson said he looked upon the final exhibition game as less important than a week of good, hard practice.
But now that he has to fight for a starting job on his new team, Ferguson said it's crucial he have a sharp performance Thursday in Detroit's exhibition finale against the Eagles in Philadelphia.
"I need to do well, no doubt about it," Ferguson said Tuesday following a workout at the Silverdome. "I need to go out and move the football team. That's what I've got to do."
Coach Darryl Rogers has split exhibition playing time evenly between Hipple and Ferguson, but Hipple has been more effective. The Lions have four touchdowns behind Hipple and only one with Ferguson at the controls.
Hipple has completed 28 of 39 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns, while Ferguson has completed 19 of 32 for 225 yards and no TDs. Neither has had an interception.
Rogers said he won't decide on his starter until next week.
"I can see advantages for both of them," said Rogers. "I've never had two quarterbacks as even as the two I have now. The choice before was always clear-cut, but this one will be more difficult."
The first-year NFL coach said both quarterbacks have received a fair shot at the starting job.
"I don't think either of them can come away and say they didn't get a chance," Rogers said.
Even if he doesn't start, Ferguson said, he is satisfied with Rogers' handling of the quarterback derby.
"Coach Rogers has been good about giving Eric and me equal time," Ferguson said. "He's put the load on our shoulders, so if I don't go out and win the job, I can live with that. I couldn't live with it if I earned the starting job and it was taken away."
Ferguson said he is pleased with his performances.
"I feel I've been throwing the ball well, especially since we broke training camp," he said. "My arm feels pretty good. I know I can help this team in a lot of ways, whether I'm the starter or not."