In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Detroit Lions win their first playoff game since 1957, beating the Dallas Cowboys 38-6 at the Pontiac Silverdome. The Cowboys successfully contained Barry Sanders, holding the star rusher to 69 yards on 12 carries. However, Erik Kramer slices up the Dallas secondary, passing for 341 yards with three touchdowns. The Lions' season would end with a 41-10 loss to the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game. The Lions have not won a playoff game since.
The Detroit Lions were a powerhouse in the 1950s, winning three NFL Championships. Following the 1957 NFL Championship Game, the Lions traded quarterback Bobby Layne to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Layne, who had won the first two titles before backup Tobin Rote, led the Lions to the title in 1957. Angry at the trade, Bobby Layne was said to have cursed the Lions, who went into a rapid decline. The Lions were contenders in the early 60s but finished second to the Green Bay Packers and played in the forgettable and regretable Playoff Bowl three straight seasons. The Lions would not make the playoffs again until 1970 when they lost to the Dallas Cowboys 5-0. They made back-to-back playoff appearances in 1982 and 1983, winning the NFC Central in 1983. In the 1983 divisional playoffs, they lost a 24-23 heartbreaker to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Lions struggled the remainder of the 1980s but landed a franchise player when they drafted Barry Sanders. Sanders was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1989. They went the Heisman route again to draft Andre Ware a year later. However, Ware would end up as a bust, making just six starts in four seasons. The Lions, coached by Wayne Fontes, began the 1991 season with a 45-0 to the Washington Redskins. They rebounded nicely to win their next five games. However, after a 6-2 start, quarterback Rodney Peete was lost to an Achilles injury. The Lions lost their next two games before beating the Los Angeles Rams 21-10. In that victory, lineman Mike Utley suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed for life. While leaving the field, Utley was able to give a thumbs up. The Lions used "Thumbs Up" as their rallying call for the remainder of the season, as they won six straight to finish 12-4, earning a bye into the Divisional Round.
Just two seasons removed for going 1-15, the Dallas Cowboys were a team on the rise in 1991. The plan of coach Jimmy Johnson as Emmitt Smith won his first rushing title, beating Barry Sanders by 15 yards, with 1,563 yards. The Cowboys made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, with a record of 11-5, closing the season with six straight wins despite Troy Aikman being sidelined with an injury. Despite Aikman recovering from a sprained knee, Steve Beuerlein started against the Chicago Bears, as the Cowboys won the Wild Card round 17-13. For the Divisional Playoff against the Lions, Beuerlein would start again.
It was the first Lions playoff game at the Pontiac Silverdome. The stadium had hosted Super Bowl XVI a decade earlier but had never been seen a Lions home game in the playoffs. The 1991 Lions excelled on artificial turf, winning all 11 games on Astroturf, including 8-0 at home. After the Cowboys' first drive stalled, the Lions got on the board first as Erik Kramer connected with Willie Green on a 31-yard touchdown pass. Ken Willis responded with a 28-yard field goal as Dallas stalled in the red zone. In the second quarter, the Lions took control of the game with a 41-yard pick-six by Mel Jenkins. Willis would hit a 28-yard field goal, while Eddie Murray hit a 36-yarder for the Lions, who held a 17-6 lead at the half as Troy Aikman came on looking to give the Cowboys a needed spark.
In the third quarter, the Lions continued to control the game as Erik Kramer completed an 80-yard drive with a nine-yard pass to Willie Green. The Lions would quickly add more as Victor Jones recovered a fumble from Troy Aikman to set up another Detroit score, with Kramer throwing a seven-yard touchdown pass to Herman Moore. The Cowboys were able to contain Barry Sanders most of the day, but in the fourth quarter, Sanders finally broke off a big 47-yard touchdown run to complete the scoring with the Lions winning 38-6.
The Lions would struggle in the NFC Championship as their season ended the way it began with a blowout loss at RFK Stadium. Washington would go on to win the Super Bowl. The Cowboys would take the lessons of the loss to the Lions and won the next two Super Bowls and three of the next four. The Lions, meanwhile, have not won a playoff game since.