Lions, doing little wrong, may get bonus in Sanders

January 08, 1994|By Houston Chronicle

PONTIAC, MICH — PONTIAC, Mich. -- The news keeps getting better for the Detroit Lions.

They've endured three quarterback controversies, finally settling on Erik Kramer, who has now led the Lions to two NFC Central titles in three years.

They overcame a three-game home losing streak, beating Green Bay last week to earn the Central title.

They rebounded from a three-point deficit in the fourth quarter to get it done.

And now they could see the return of Barry Sanders.

Sanders, who suffered a knee injury Thanksgiving Day, practiced for the first time this week and could be available if needed when the Lions play host to Green Bay today at the Silverdome.

The Lions (10-6) have gone 3-2 without Sanders. The three victories have been largely due to Derrick Moore and Eric Lynch, who have combined to average 142 yards total offense playing in Sanders' place.

"That was why there was really no pressure to come back early," Sanders said. "In that position, we really haven't suffered. They've been able to come in and do a good job. I never really was under the assumption that I was 'the team' offensively, but the fact they have been productive has really taken the pressure off even Erik [Kramer] and everyone else."

The division championship was literally tossed to the Lions, who forced five turnovers, including four interceptions from Green Bay quarter back Brett Favre last week.

Favre, who finished the regular season leading the league in interceptions with 24, had a pass deflected by defensive end Robert Porcher in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Pat Swilling got the interception and the Lions scored three plays later to take a 27-23 lead. Favre had one final pass intercepted with less than threeminutes remaining to ensure the Detroit victory.

The only positive note for Green Bay came when Sterling Sharpe caught six passes for 33 yards, lifting his season total to 112. That eclipsed his previous record of 108, set in 1992. The previous week, he had become the only receiver to catch 100 passes in two seasons.

"This is going to be a big game, obviously the biggest of my career," Favre said. "I want to redeem myself. Obviously, there were a lot of mistakes. I had two batted balls that were interceptions. The other two were just decision mistakes. Four -- that's a lot. It's been a long time since I've done that."

And interceptions aren't Favre's only problems this season. He finished second to Chicago quarterback Jim Harbaugh in fumbles with 14. Harbaugh led the league with 15. He also finished second in the league with 522 pass attempts and 318 completions (John Elway led both categories, going 348-for-551), but those accomplishments have been overshadowed by the mistakes.

"At least we have another chance this week and it's against Detroit again," Favre said. "If we come back and play well, everything's forgotten."

But the Lions don't expect to get handed opportunities again.

"I think Green Bay will take this game to a higher tempo," Detroit coach Wayne Fontes said."They won't be overconfident. We have to take our game up a notch, too."

Kramer, on the other hand, has been nearly flawless in his four starts this season. He is 87 of 138 for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns over the 16-week regular season. He is 76 of 114 for 882 yards, eight touchdowns and only two interceptions in his starts.

And he's best under pressure. In the 1991 divisional playoffs against Dallas, Kramer set club records with 29 completions for 341 yards as the Lions dominated the Cowboys, 38-6.

"The playoff experience in 1991 means a lot of the guys that were here have a little more confidence now," Kramer said. "They know about the extra media and fan attention. They know it doesn't translate into much on the field."

But it will be a foreign feeling for the Packers (9-7), who will be making their first playoff appearance since 1982, having clinched the wild-card berth two weeks ago with a 28-0 victory over the Raiders.

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