PONTIAC, Mich. — The Detroit Lions have found that they have to be able to run in order for the shoot part of their offense to work. So they ran Barry Sanders 23 times for 147 yards in a 40-27 victory over the Denver Broncos on Thursday.
It was the most points by the Lions (4-7) since a 44-40 Thanksgiving Day loss to Green Bay in 1986. The Broncos (3-8), AFC champions in three of the last four seasons, lost their fourth consecutive game.
"We couldn't slow them down much in the contest," Denver Coach Dan Reeves said. "Barry Sanders is just unbelievable. He had a great game, and we just couldn't contain him."
Sanders, in only his second 100-yard plus game this season, rushed for one touchdown in the run-and-shoot offense. He caught three passes for 30 yards and another touchdown. It was his biggest rushing day since he gained 158 yards against the Atlanta Falcons in the final game of the '89 season.
"It felt good to be more involved," said Sanders, who had carried only 144 times for 697 yards in Detroit's first 10 games. "We suffered a couple of tough losses. The morale of the team was down. We needed to get a win."
The Lions took a 27-17 halftime lead, scoring on five of their six possessions. "Historically, balanced attacks are more successful, and today was an indication of what a balanced attack can do," Sanders said. "We did pretty much what we wanted to do on offense."
Richard Johnson caught touchdown passes of 11 and 43 yards from Bob Gagliano, Sanders had a seven-yard touchdown run and Eddie Murray kicked field goals of 24 and 32 yards in the first half.
In the second half, Sanders turned a quick flip from Gagliano into a 35-yard touchdown run and Murray kicked field goals of 43 and 45 yards.
"There's been a lot of criticism about not getting the ball to Barry," Gagliano said. "Today we were running this offense the way it's designed to be run. We're doing some productive things, and I think it was helpful to get Barry the ball more."
Denver's Melvin Bratton scored twice on one-yard runs, David Treadwell kicked field goals of 24 and 32 yards and Wymon Henderson returned an interception 49 yards for another score.
"We got out of the gate slow and we were down 24-7 before you could say 'Jackie Robinson,' " Denver quarterback John Elway said. "Our game plan all week was to give the ball to Barry," Detroit Coach Wayne Fontes said. "They played a 3-4 defense, which allowed us to give the ball to Barry more. That helped us tremendously when the clock was winding down."