PONTIAC, MICH., NOV. 5 -- On the eve of Election Day, the Great Sanders Debate ripped through every Michigan community, big and small. Was Barry getting the ball enough? Should the Detroit Lions abandon the run-and-shoot offense? The public opinion following Sunday's stunning 41-38 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins was split: No and yes.

The controversy heated up again Sunday: Sanders scored on a 45-yard run to give Detroit a 35-14 lead with 10:37 left in the third quarter. In the final 34:57, Sanders -- who finished with 100 yards on 10 rushes -- carried the ball only twice more as the Redskins (5-3) rallied. The Lions (3-5) were held without a first down in the fourth and overtime periods.

"It was probably an error on our part not to give Barry the ball, but we scored 31 points {on offense} and everything was wide open, so why change? We had a chance to put them away, but we threw a couple of errant passes," said Coach Wayne Fontes.

After more grilling from the media, Fontes said: "You'll probably see Sanders get the ball more, but it's hard to question what we did offensively. We were going up and down the field and {Washington} didn't have an answer for it."

Fontes sounded like a politician covering all the bases 24 hours before the polls opened. But he bared his true allegiance to the run-and-shoot when he invited a few reporters to watch film of Detroit's late-game possessions. It was startling the way the Lions' receivers were open on every play.

"In overtime, we had any one of three plays that could've gotten us the field goal. Any one of the three. If we had correctly blocked {Bob} Gagliano's option, he would've run for 30 yards," Fontes said. "We could've buried them, but didn't execute."

Throughout the game's final stages, Gagliano (subbing for injured Rodney Peete) did not see some of his receivers and misfired other times.

"It was the execution, not the system," Gagliano said. "To blame the run-and-shoot for what happened is total bull."

Late in the game, the Redskins sent four defensive linemen after the quarterback and had two linebackers shadowing Sanders. Washington took its chances on Detroit's passing game and won.

"I think people are making a big deal out of something that's minor," said Sanders. "People have to find something to talk about."

Lions assistant coach June Jones agreed. "It's always something," he said. "First they said {the run-and-shoot} caused too many turnovers . . . then they said you can't score inside the 20 with it, but we're one of the best teams in the league in doing that. Now they say we aren't giving the ball to Barry enough."

That does not appear to be so. At the midpoint last season (in seven games), Sanders had handled the ball an average of 17.7 times for 93 yards. This year he is carrying 17 times a game for 106 yards. He has six more touchdowns.

"We were dead last in offense when we got here {in '89} and averaging 13 to 14 points a game," Davis said. "Now we're 17th and averaging 26 points a game. We've got a long way to go, but we've also come a long way."