PONTIAC, Mich. — For one magical moment Saturday, Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre turned 40 yards of Silverdome turf into a playground.
His coach called for a standard pass to a wide receiver. With possibly one minute left in their season, Favre thought it stupid.
So he rolled left. He looked for his tight end, then he looked to run.
At the instant Favre realized he had no idea what he was doing, he saw receiver Sterling Sharpe standing alone in the right corner of the end zone.
"I figured, what the heck, I'd give it the big heave-ho," he said.
And so the Packers were tossed into the second round of the NFC playoffs, with Favre connecting with Sharpe on a touchdown pass that gave them a 28-24 victory over the Detroit Lions.
The wonders of football's most enigmatic quarterback never cease.
One moment Favre was throwing the ball into the hands of cornerback Melvin Jenkins, then watching him run 15 yards to give the Lions a 10-point lead.
Then he was screaming at Lion defensive players.
The next moment he was being publicly scolded by Coach Mike Holmgren.
"I hate watching films because sometimes I wonder, 'What the hell am I doing?' " Favre said.
But in the final moment, he was sending his team to Dallas for a second-round game next Sunday while sending the stunned Lions to their winter homes.
It was Packers' first playoff victory in a non-strike year since their 1967 Super Bowl victory over the Raiders.
"To lose like that is a killer," said Chris Spielman, Lion linebacker. "They beat us on a play that will be shown over and over until the end of time."
The Lions, behind Barry Sanders' 169 rushing yards and Brett Perriman's 150 receiving yards, beat the Packers in every other way.
The Lions outgained Green Bay, 410-293. They were so dominating, they appeared to overcome two end-zone interceptions thrown by Erik Kramer, including a second-half pass that was returned 101 yards--a postseason record--for a touchdown by George Teague.
"I was so excited watching George, I wanted to run out and block for him," Favre said. "I was so happy, me and Frank Winters was swapping spit."
The Lions also had four drives of 50 yards or more, including an 89-yard march that ended in a five-yard touchdown run by Derrick Moore with 8:27 to play.
That gave the Lions a 24-21 edge, the fourth time the lead had changed hands.
But a Lion offense that had survived by mixing Sanders runs and passes to Perriman suddenly lost its way.
A nine-play drive featured five runs by exhausted Sanders--playing in his first game since Thanksgiving--and only one pass to Perriman, who did not catch a ball in the final 17:47.
The Packer offense took over on its 29-yard line with 2:26 remaining. Two passes and two runs later, it was on the Lions' 40.
Now it was the Lion defense that lost its way. With Favre hurrying to the line of scrimmage, cornerback Kevin Scott said he was not told what coverage was being called.
"I couldn't hear, and nobody told me, so I just looked at the other defensive backs to see what they were doing," Scott said.
Moments later they were staring at him when he covered Sharpe until the 10-yard line and then left him alone.
Sharpe was so alone when he caught the ball five yards deep in the end zone, he looked stunned. Instead of celebrating, he held out his hands in amazement.
"I knew what the call was," Spielman grumbled. "I thought everyone else knew what the call was."
Favre was so excited, he tore off his helmet, ran halfway off the field, then jumped into the arms of teammate Mark Chmura, knocking him to the ground.
His teammates said they will be reacting with similar fervor this week at a chance to gain revenge for a 36-14 loss to the Cowboys at Dallas earlier this season.
"This will be the biggest game this organization has had in 20-something years," said Matt Brock, Packer defensive lineman. "And right now, we believe we can beat anybody. We feel anybody can make the big play."
No stranger thing has happened to them this year than that touchdown pass, but finishing a close second was a postgame appearance before reporters by Sharpe.
Sharpe, who caught all three of Favre's touchdown passes, has not participated in newspaper interviews in four years. But he broke his silence to say that a toe injury he has endured during his record-breaking season has been worse than imagined.
"I don't practice, I can't run, all I do is take pain-killers every Sunday and see what happens," Sharpe said. "This has been a long struggle."
And so it will be a long winter for the Lions, who survived numerous controversies during the fall to record their second division championship in three years.
"I'm numb," Kramer said, still in uniform an hour after the game. "I was feeling we should be playing next Sunday. And now, we're not."
In the other locker room, Favre, who threw four interceptions in last week's division championship loss in the Silverdome, was still celebrating.
"As much as everyone hates to take chances, I love to, even when it gets me in trouble," he said.
And especially when it doesn't.