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THE NFL / 1996

Howard Strikes Pose as Packers Run Away

NFC: He reminds Detroit of Heisman Trophy days with 92-yard punt return in 31-3 Green Bay victory.

December 16, 1996|From Associated Press

PONTIAC, Mich. — Back in the state where he achieved Heisman glory, Desmond Howard couldn't help but show off a bit.

After breaking open the game for Green Bay with a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown, Howard struck the familiar Heisman Trophy pose.

"It was just impulsive," the former Michigan All-American and 1991 Heisman winner said. "You save special things for special places."

Howard's third punt return for a touchdown helped ensure the Packers of a first-round bye in the playoffs as Green Bay defeated the Detroit Lions, 31-3, on Sunday.

The Packers (12-3), riding a four-game winning streak, had already clinched a second consecutive NFC Central title. They can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory in their final game against Minnesota next week.

The Lions (5-10) lost for the eighth time in the last nine games.

Brett Favre ran for one touchdown and threw for another. He completed 16 of 25 passes for 240 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman. Dorsey Levens had a touchdown run for Green Bay.

"Every one is crucial," Favre said. "We knew it would be tough to come in here and beat those guys, but we did it."

The Packer defense, which has yielded only 18 touchdowns, gave up only a 39-yard field goal by Detroit's Jason Hanson. Reggie White, the career sacks leader with 164 1/2, had two of Green Bay's four sacks against Detroit, giving him 7 1/2 this season.

"The offense struggled and we gave them enough time to get back," White said. "The times when we struggled, they gave us enough time to get back."

Detroit's Scott Mitchell completed 23 of 40 passes for 207 yards, with one interception. The defense held Barry Sanders to 78 yards in 21 carries.

The Packers, notoriously slow starters, did nothing to distinguish themselves offensively in the first half, but they didn't have to. The defense, which held the Lions to 265 yards total, shut Detroit down.

And Howard, who complained of stomach cramps and headaches before the game, did the rest.

"Desmond was wonderful today and really jump-started us, as he has all season," Packer Coach Mike Holmgren said.

A 20-yard field goal by Chris Jacke gave Green Bay a 3-0 lead with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Lions, on the following possession, failed to reach midfield, forcing a punt.

Howard gathered the 51-yard punt in at the eight-yard line and headed toward the Green Bay sideline. A nice cutback got him away from the pack. Howard eluded punter Mark Royals short of midfield, then turned on the jets past the Lion bench and scored going away.

"That hurt us," Detroit Coach Wayne Fontes said. "When he broke the first one for six, and then almost broke another one for six, that gave them field position. That hurts you. They were working on a short field, which makes it very tough on our defense."

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