PONTIAC, Mich. — Walter Stanley went with his instincts and against orders. It was a winning move all the way.
Stanley, switching signals on plans for a fair catch, returned a Detroit punt 83 yards for a touchdown with 41 seconds left, giving the Green Bay Packers a 44-40 victory Thursday over the Lions.
"I wasn't supposed to run," Stanley said. "It was set up for a block, and I was supposed to fair-catch. But I decided not to because I wanted to get something going."
Stanley, who also caught touchdown passes of 21 and 36 yards from Randy Wright, hauled in Jim Arnold's punt on his 17. He broke left, saw a wall of Detroit defenders and spun around, reversing his field, and headed back up the right sideline.
"He made a spin move and I was about two steps away from him," Detroit's Paul Butcher said. "I've got to contain on the left side, but he got away from me."
Stanley, a third-year pro from Mesa College (Colo.), got a block from Eddie Lee Ivery near the Packer bench and another from Mossy Cade on Arnold near the Detroit 30.
"The thing is, I'm expecting to make big plays--not all the time--but if you want to be better than average, you're going to have to make the big plays, and that's what I try to do every chance I get," Stanley said. "I wanted the touchdown because I felt that we needed it.
"I knew that, hey, this is the time to take chances. You either are going to make it or you're not going to make it."
Stanley, who had been told by Coach Forrest Gregg to fair-catch the punt, was cruising by the time he got to the 15 and was waving goodby to the Lions' defenders the rest of the way.
"My eyes got real big," Cade said. "I was really shocked that he made a move like that.
"I was the last man back deep and I knew that if I got my block in, he was gone. I was licking my chops. The kicker didn't even see me until the last minute, then he turned around and I was there."
It was only the third victory in 13 starts for the Packers, who overcame deficits of 10 and 14 points. The Lions slipped to 5-8.
Stanley, who also had a 30-yard punt return to set up an Al Del Greco field goal in the first quarter, caught 4 passes for 127 yards.
"All I know is the guy is a good athlete and has a lot of heart," Gregg said. "A lot of things can happen, and it did on that. Walter had an outstanding game.
"I think they probably underestimated his ability a little bit. Nobody will be guilty of that again."
Wright and Detroit quarterback Joe Ferguson each passed for three touchdowns. Wright completed 18 of 26 passes for 286 yards, and Ferguson, who was seeking his third successive win as the Lion starter, hit 19 of 37 for 256. Wright was intercepted once and Ferguson twice.
Detroit, scoring on a 44-yard field goal by Eddie Murray and a 1-yard run by James Jones, led, 10-0, in the first quarter before the Packers ever ran a play.
The Lions took the opening kickoff and drove 50 yards to set up Murray's 44-yarder with 12:57 left in the first quarter.
Green Bay's Kenneth Davis fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Alvin Moore recovered for Detroit at the Packers 18. Four plays later, Jones plowed over for the touchdown.
The Packers scored the next 16 points on field goals of 34, 48 and 24 yards by Del Greco and the recovery of a blocked punt in the end zone by John Simmons.
On the blocked punt, center Tom Turnure sent a low snap back to Arnold, who was standing at his 12-yard line. Green Bay's Timothy Harris took the kick off his chest, and the ball rolled into the end zone, where Simmons fell on it for the touchdown to tie the game, 10-10, with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter.
Murray pulled the Lions within 16-13 on a 30-yard field goal with 3:10 remaining in the second quarter, but Wright took the Packers 70 yards in seven plays to make it 23-13. Scrambling, Wright found Stanley at the two-yard line, and Stanley spun away and into the end zone on a 21-yard play with 1:15 left in the second quarter.
Ferguson then moved the Lions 65 yards in six plays, hitting Jeff Chadwick on a post pattern for the touchdown that cut the Packer lead to 23-20 at halftime.
The Lions scored the first 17 points of the third quarter to go ahead, 37-23, as Murray kicked a 32-yard field goal and Ferguson passed 20 yards to Jimmie Giles and 10 yards to Carl Bland for touchdowns. Chadwick finished with 6 catches for 121 yards.
The Packers answered with a 54-yard, three-play drive that ended with Wright's 36-yard pass to Stanley alone in the end zone.
Detroit then led, 40-30, with 5:06 to play after turning Wright's interception into a 19-yard Murray field goal.
But Wright took the Packers 79 yards in three plays, hitting Paul Ott Carruth with an 11-yard touchdown pass with 3:31 remaining, setting the stage for Stanley's punt return.