The Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions met in a memorable playoff game in the 1993 Wild Card round at the Pontiac Silverdome. Although these two rivals had already been playing for 63 years by that time, it was the first time they met in the postseason. It was also the Packers first non-strike season playoff appearance in 21 years.
The same two teams met in the regular season finale just a week earlier with the NFC Central Division title going to the winner. Unfortunately for the Packers, Brett Favre threw four interceptions and the Lions won the game 30-20. That meant the re-match in the opening round of the playoffs would be in Detroit instead of at Lambeau Field.
This was the first playoff game as a head coach for Mike Holmgren and Favre’s first postseason start. The Packers trailed 10-7 at the half before disaster struck early in the third quarter. Favre went back to pass deep in his own territory and was picked off by Detroit’s Melvin Jenkins. Jenkins ran in back 15 yards for the score and the young Packers were down 17-7.
To his credit, Favre led the Packers back and found Sterling Sharpe on a 28-yard touchdown pass to make it a three-point game midway through the 3rd quarter.
The Lions responded and quickly moved the ball inside the red zone. On second-and-goal from the five, Lions quarterback Erik Kramer looked for tight end Ty Hallock a yard deep in the end zone but rookie safety George Teague picked the pass off and raced 101 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. It was the longest interception return for a touchdown in NFL postseason history and it saved the game for the Packers.
“At that point, if they score, we’re done,” safety LeRoy Butler admitted to NFL Films.
“I don’t know if I can even express how excited I was,” Favre added. “An interception return for a touchdown is always big but when you get one like that when they’re getting ready to score in their place in the playoffs, man, it doesn’t get any bigger than that.”
Defensively, the Packers had two problems throughout the game: They couldn’t stop WR Brett Perriman who finished with 10 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown and they were unable to slow down future Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. The elusive back ran the ball 27 times for 169 yards and constantly left Packers defenders grasping at air throughout the game.
To their credit, the Lions didn’t quit after Teague’s big play. The ensuing drive by Detroit lasted 15 plays and more than eight minutes and featured four big runs by Sanders for key first downs. Backup running back Derrick Moore finished things off when he bulled his way up the middle and scored from five yards out. Detroit led 24-21 with 8:27 left in the fourth quarter. The pressure was squarely on the Packers and their young quarterback from Southern Mississippi.
The Packers next drive went nowhere. Favre’s first pass was deflected and incomplete. Then he hit Robert Brooks for a one-yard gain. On third-and-nine, Favre had Mark Clayton wide open 30 yards downfield, but the gunslinger threw the ball out of bounds. Green Bay had to punt.
But with their backs up against the wall, the Green Bay defense came up big. After the Lions got to midfield, they forced a punt, giving the offense one final chance to at least tie the game and force overtime.
The Packers took over with 2:26 left in the game and the ball at their own 29. A screen pass to running back Edgar Bennett gained 12 yards and a first down as the clock ticked down to the two-minute warning. On the next play, Favre hit tight end Ed West for another 10 yards as the Pack got into Detroit territory. The next pass went to Sharpe who was tackled at the Detroit 40 with the clock still running at 1:09.
“I’m was trying to come out of the football game,” Sharpe later told NFL Films. He had aggravated an earlier injury. “I’m trying to tell Robert Brooks to come into the game because I can’t run.”
But Sharpe didn’t have time to get to the sideline. Favre hurried to the line of scrimmage and quickly faded back to pass. He was pressured and scrambled to his left. Then he stopped and threw a rainbow back to his right to Sharpe. Nobody was within 10 yards of the Packers All-Pro receiver and he got both feet in bounds for his third touchdown of the day. After Chris Jacke’s extra point, the Packers led 28-24 with 51 seconds left on the clock.
“It was the hardest catch I ever made,” Sharpe told NFL Films. “Had I been healthy, I probably would have been out of the back of the end zone because I’d have been going faster.”
“It was the play of the year,” Holmgren told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It’s just a wonderful, wonderful feeling. We worked so hard to get this one.”
This win was the start of a new era for the Packers franchise. They had won their first playoff game in a non-strike season since the Ice Bowl in 1967 and would qualify for the postseason for six straight seasons. This win set the foundation for the team’s next era of success that included a Super Bowl victory just three years later.