On the defensive side the Lions replaced coordinator Woody Widenhofer before the season with 58-year-old Hank Bullough, who had been out of football for a year after being released by the Packers. A workaholic with 34 years of coaching experience, Bullough has expanded Detroit's look from a two-gap front with a basic zone behind it to as many as three dozen fronts and a hundred-plus coverages. Entering Sunday's game, the Lion defense ranked fifth in the NFL; it has not finished in the upper half of the league in that department in 10 seasons. "Henry's a schemer," says Detroit coach Wayne Fontes. "Sometimes our guys go out there on Monday, and by Wednesday or Thursday they're going, 'What's that call? Rabbit? Hound Dog? Saint Bernard? No, that was last week.' And then Friday, it just all fits in."
Bullough figured to unleash a kennel's worth of red dogs at Packer quarterback Brett Favre. After earning a trip to the Pro Bowl last February in his first full season as a starter, the strong-armed Favre has struggled, trying to carry the load single-handedly against schemes designed to confuse him. "Last year it was real vanilla," Favre says. "I'd walk up to the line, I'd look, I'd drop back and I'd throw it. Other teams figured I was a rookie, and they let me make my own mistakes, but I didn't do that. Now they figure they'd better do something to screw me up."
To help ease Havre's burden, the Pack acquired running back Eric Dickerson from the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 12, but Dickerson flunked his physical because of a spinal injury. Still, the trade paid off: Holmgren had installed some I-formation plays for Dickerson that Darrell Thompson, a formidable straight-ahead runner, has been able to use to boost Green Bay's sputtering ground game. And even as Favre's efficiency rating has plummeted to 21st in the league, Holmgren has stood by him. "From a coaching standpoint there's the normal frustration," Holmgren says. "But I know what I have, and I have a good one."
On Sunday's opening drive Favre completed all four of his passes into a 27-mph wind, marched the Packers 80 yards into Detroit's end zone and looked more comfortable reading the Lions' blitzes than he had the extensive menu at an Italian restaurant in Milwaukee the night before. (Having grown up near Mississippi's Gulf Coast, Favre was familiar with shrimp, and he eventually settled on the scampi.) He did throw two first-half interceptions, but in all Favre had a solid day: 24 completions in 33 attempts for 259 yards. Thompson (18 rushes for 73 yards) and Bennett (15 for 66 and two touchdowns) helped balance the Pack attack, which piled up nearly twice the yardage that the Lions did, 404 yards to 205.
Set up by Derrick Moore's 68-yard kickoff return at the start of the third quarter, Detroit took a 17-13 lead on Peete's one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ty Hallock. But the Lions were unable to sustain an offensive flow. While Sanders gained 75 yards on 17 carries and joined Dickerson and Tony Dorsett as the only backs in league history to gain more than 1,000 yards in each of their first five seasons, he rushed only four times in the second half, which surprised the Packers. "If I was their offensive coordinator, I'd put it in [Sanders's] hands 30 or 35 times a game," Holland said. "Toward the end, I don't think they used him as effectively as they should have."
Green Bay seemed to spend most of the second half in the red zone, casting longing glances toward Detroit's goal line. In the third quarter, after Favre and Sterling Sharpe hooked up on a gorgeous 20-yard sideline pattern that brought them to the Lion two, the Pack was set back by two tackles for losses and a pair of penalties, one of which negated an apparent touchdown pass to Mark Clayton. Placekicker Chris Jacke wound up missing a 53-yard field goal try, snapping his streak of 17 straight three-pointers, but he still wound up with four field goals on the day, including a 52-yarder and another from 34 yards out that put Green Bay ahead 19-17 with 9:03 remaining.
But ultimately in the black-and-blue division, games are won by the team that inflicts more bruises, and White was the most contusing force on Sunday. As the season progresses, he figures to get more support. Butler is emerging as a team leader and a star; Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker Tony Bennett is just rounding into shape after ending a 103-day holdout on Oct. 27; and two other playmaking linebackers—Bryce Paup and Wayne Simmons—didn't even dress on Sunday because of injuries. Holmgren's first words to his team after the game were along these lines: I can't wait to see what happens when we finally click on all cylinders.
Or, as White put it the day before: "I try my best to encourage my teammates, but I can't do it if I'm not producing, which I really wasn't in the beginning. Playing well has allowed me to say, 'Hey, we have a lot of talent. Now it's time to produce.' " With that attitude, the Pack may indeed go deep.