There was a brief period when the Detroit Lions were actually pretty good. From 1993 to 1995 they were over .500 for three consecutive seasons and in 1993 they actually managed to win the division and host a playoff game. They were anchored by the legendary Barry Sanders and a very good receiving corps featuring Herman Moore and Brett Perriman. They likely would have been even better had they gone with Erik Kramer over Rodney Peete for most of the year, but by the time the playoffs rolled around, they had even gotten that right.
The Lions also ranked 12th overall defensively by DVOA, led by the 7th ranked pass defense. Robert Porcher and Pat Swilling provided the pass rush and Ray Crockett led a pretty good secondary. They even had Chris Spielman at linebacker. It was a good team with a lot of promise, and they won the division on the last day of the season with a decisive 30-20 victory over the Packers in the Silverdome, forcing Brett Favre into four interceptions.
That set up a rematch the following week in the Wild Card game back in Pontiac. Barry Sanders missed the Week 18 matchup (Note: in 1993 there were two bye weeks), but he was ready and raring to go in the playoffs, rushing for 169 yards on 27 carries. Unfortunately for Detroit, the Packers were secret juggernauts. 1993 Brett Favre wasn’t “Brett Favre” yet — okay, so in a way he was the Brett Favre-iest Brett Favre as he threw 24 picks against just 19 touchdowns, but he was still a year away from the MVP-level that we associate with the young gunslinger. Despite Favre’s issues, the Packers still ranked 9th overall in DVOA thanks to an excellent defense, and amazingly still ranked 14th in passing DVOA. When Favre wasn’t throwing picks, he was fantastic, and the Packers were 7-2 in games where he threw one pick or fewer.
The Lions were a complete team, but Erik Kramer was a problem, even if he was better than Peete and Andre Ware. He threw two interceptions in the wild card game, but the Lions still led by a field goal with three minutes to go. The bigger problem was, surprisingly, Barry Sanders. Sanders is one of the greatest of all time and certainly the greatest “boom or bust” back of all time, but in 1993, he busted more than he boomed, and ranked only 20th in DVOA. (He would rank 2nd the following season.)
Sanders boomed in this game as he was at his best in the 3rd quarter, and had several huge runs to help put Detroit into the lead. Unfortunately for Detroit, when trying to run out the clock in the fourth, he busted, stoned twice at the line of scrimmage before Terrell Buckely broke up a 3rd down pass to Brett Perriman. After a nice punt return by Robert Brooks and a few quick passes to Edgar Bennett, Ed West, and Sterling Sharpe, the Packers found themselves at the Detroit 40 with 1:04 to play, at which point Brett unleashed the pass that convinced me that Green Bay had something special.
The pass itself was released from the Lions 42, about 3 yards outside of the NFL hash marks (between the NFL and high school hashes), meaning Favre was about 33 yards from the opposite sideline.
Sharpe catches the ball between 6-8 yards deep in the end zone (he does have to reach behind him a bit, so let’s call it 7 yards):
meaning that the ball traveled about 31 yards laterally and about 49 yards vertically. We can use our old friend the Pythagorean Theorem to discover just how far the ball flew. That’s about 58 yards.
We’ve seen Aaron Rodgers (and Brett Favre) throw the ball further, but the reason that Sharpe is so open is based on the facts that Favre was fading to his left and it’s so very rare to see an arm-side bomb thrown like this. The defensive back assigned to Sharpe (poor Kevin Scott) certainly didn’t expect Favre to be able to throw this ball, and he stopped following his man once Favre came under pressure. Honestly, I don’t really understand how he made the ball go that way. Favre winds up like he’s going to fire a bullet to his left, and the ball just takes off in a completely unexpected way.
This throw pushed the Packers into the next round against the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Dallas Cowboys, where Green Bay gave them all that they could handle, picking Aikman twice and keeping Emmitt Smith in check.
Finally, here’s what Sterling Sharpe looks like after he breaks a franchise.