It was the worst performance of Barry Sanders’ six-year NFL career, and even the Green Bay Packers couldn’t believe it.
Sanders, the NFL’s leading rusher this season, carried 13 times for minus-1 yard Saturday as the Detroit Lions were beaten by the Packers 16-12 in an opening-round NFC playoff game.
“It’s inconceivable to hold him to negative yards,” Green Bay defensive end Reggie White said. “He does things that no other back does.”
“I don’t know if you can play Barry Sanders any better than our defense played him today,” Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren said.
Sanders gave credit to the Packers’ pursuing defense for his negative performance.
“They did a good job of pursuing,” he said. “When we tried to go outside, they were there. They did a good job of fighting off the blocks and closing up the holes.
“We’ve had a couple of games like that. We’re fortunate they’re few and far between.”
While Sterling Sharpe’s absence impaired the Packers, it was not nearly as damaging as Sanders’ missing running game hurt Detroit.
With their Pro Bowl receiver out with a career-threatening neck injury, the Packers stopped Sanders, who had gained 1,883 yards this season.
Sanders’ uncharacteristic performance was the major reason Detroit (9-8) was knocked out of the playoffs by Green Bay (10-7) for the second straight season.
“It’s hard to believe Barry Sanders could ever be held to negative yardage,” Lions quarterback Dave Krieg said.
“We’re learning little by little, the hard way, that when Barry Sanders is not having the day you expect him to have, it’s hard for this team to win,” Detroit coach Wayne Fontes said.
Overall, Detroit was held to minus4 yards on the ground, the lowest ever by an NFL team in the playoffs. The previous low was 7 yards rushing by New England against Chicago in 1986.
Despite Sanders’ sub-par performance, the Lions had a shot to win at the end when Herman Moore made a leaping grab of Krieg’s desperation fourth-down pass from the Green Bay 17. But Moore landed just beyond the end zone as safety George Teague pushed him before his feet could come down inbounds.
Green Bay punter Craig Hentrich ran out of the back of the end zone as time expired, giving Detroit, which hasn’t won a road playoff game since 1957, a meaningless safety.
Brett Favre, the second-leading passer in the NFL, clearly missed Sharpe, the centerpiece of Green Bay’s attack with 94 catches for 1,119 yards and a team-record 18 TDs this season. Favre threw 33 touchdowns this season but none Saturday.
Favre was 23-for-38 for 262 yards with no interceptions. Robert Brooks, Sharpe’s replacement at flanker, caught seven passes for 88 yards as Green Bay won its fourth straight and improved to 8-0 all-time at home in the playoffs.Sharpe, who caught Favre’s game-winning 40-yard touchdown with 55 seconds left in last year’s 28-24 playoff victory over the Lions, watched from the sideline, coaching and cheering his teammates.”We missed Sterling Sharpe and everyone knows that,” Holmgren said. “But all our other receivers stepped it up.”
Favre guided the Packers to a touchdown on their first possession. But then the offense sputtered and the Packers turned to their defense, led by White, to stop Sanders, who had run for 188 yards against Green Bay in their last meeting.
It worked.On that frigid day 27 years ago, with a temperature of minus-13 and a wind chill of minus-46, Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak behind Jerry Kramer’s block gave the Packers a victory over Dallas.
The Packers needed no slippery grass or frozen field to slow Sanders this time. They outgained the Lions 184-8 over the first 27 minutes en route to a 10-0 halftime lead.
Rookie running back Dorsey Levens, who carried only five times for 15 yards during the season, scored his first NFL touchdown with a 3-yard run on fourth-and-inches for a 7-0 Green Bay lead in the first quarter.
Hanson hit the inside of the left upright from 38 yards out to pull Detroit within 10-3 with 5:38 remaining in the third period.
The Packers got the ball at Detroit’s 46 late in the third quarter and Favre hit Robert Brooks with a blitzbeating 26-yard lob to the Lions’ 16.
Favre appeared to take a late hit from linebacker Broderick Thomas on an incompletion on third-and-8 from the 14. The two tangled after the play, and several players from both teams joined in, but no flags were thrown and Jacke followed with a 32-yarder for a 13-3 lead.
Mel Gray returned the kickoff a club playoff record 68 yards to the Packers’ 18, setting up Krieg’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Perriman, who outleaped Teague to make it 13-10 with 13:35 remaining.
Jacke’s 28-yarder with 5:35 left made it 16-10, but again Detroit got a good runback, this time from Eric Lynch, who was tackled at the Green Bay 49.
On fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 14, Krieg, who was 17-of-35 for 199 yards, sneaked across for the first down. But an incompletion, a 2-yard gain by Sanders and 6-yard sack by Bryce Paup brought up fourth-and-13 from the 17.
Krieg’s pass to Moore was high. When Moore came down out of bounds, the Packers, who completed a 5-0 run at Lambeau this year, their first undefeated record at home since ‘67, were on their way to the second round, against either San Francisco or Dallas.
Packers 16, Dolphins 12
Detroit 0 0 3 9 - 12 Green Bay 7 3 3 3 - 16
GB-Levens 3 run (Jacke kick), 7:24.
GB-FG Jacke 51, 12:04.
Det-FG Hanson 38, 9:22.
GB-FG Jacke 32, 14:49.
Det-Perriman 3 pass from Krieg (Hanson kick), 1:25.
GB-FG Jacke 28, 9:25.
Det-Hentrich forced out of end zone, 15:00.
Det GB First downs 9 18 Rushes-yards 15-(-4) 35-81 Passing 175 255 Punt Returns 2-17 3-15 Kickoff Returns 5-186 3-45 Interceptions Ret. 0-00 0-00 Comp-Att-Int 17-35-0 23-38-0 Sacked-Yards Lost 4-24 1-7 Punts 8-37 5-39 Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0 Penalties-Yards 4-30 3-35 Time of Possession 22:32 37:28
RUSHINGDetroit, Sanders 13-(minus -1), Kreig 1-1, Perriman 1-(minus 4). Green Bay, Bennett 22-70, Brooks 1-13, Cobb 8-12, Favre 2-5, Levens 1-3, Hentrich 1-(minus 22).
PASSINGDetroit, Krieg 17-35-0-199. Green Bay, Favre 23-38-0-262.
RECEIVINGDetroit, Perriman 4-62, Holman 4-30, Matthews 3-36, Sanders 3-4, Moore 2-52, Hallock 1-15. Green Bay, Brooks 7-88, Bennett 6-31, Chmura 5-75, Morgan 3-33, Cobb 1-18, Mickens 1-17.
MISSED FIELD GOALSDetroit, Hanson 30. Green Bay, Jacke 37.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.