Packers Roll Past Lions in Opener

Things can change dramatically from the preseason to regular season, just ask the Minnesota Vikings. But a nine-month layoff hasn't done much to stop the Green Bay Packers. Finishing as one of the hottest teams in the league last year, the Packers picked up where they left off in the regular season opener against Detroit Lions.

The Packers jumped to an early 21-0 lead, and got a stellar effort from their defense en route to a 28-6 victory over the Lions Sunday before 59,523 on a cool and rainy day at Lambeau Field.

Green Bay won its fifth straight game dating back to last December when it finished the regular season by winning four straight but missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record. The Packers won their 11th straight game at home against the Lions, including the 1994 playoff game, and ruined the debut of new Lions coach and ex-Packers assistant Marty Mornhinweg.

The Packers dominated from start to finish. Green Bay finished with 424 yards of offense, including 179 on the ground. The Packers sacked Lions quarterback Charlie Batch seven times, forced three turnovers and held the Lions out of the end zone. Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper also picked up where he left off with two interceptions, including one just before halftime that doused a Lions' drive.

Still, the Packers aren't getting too excited. The Lions took the field with a three starters missing from their secondary and are struggling under Mornhinweg's new West Coast offense. James Stewart, who rushed for 1,184 yards last year, was held to 39 on 13 attempts.

"This is one ballgame," said Sherman. "I thought it was a great team effort by our guys."

The Packers will face a more formidable opponent this Sunday when they travel to play the New York Giants, the defending National Football Conference champions, at the Meadowlands.

The Packers proved they could run as well as pass against the Lions' vaunted front seven. Of course, it didn't hurt that Brett Favre was sharp as a tack despite the wet and slippery conditions. Favre completed 22 of 28 passes for 260 yards for two touchdowns and finished with a quarterback rating of 129.2.

Wide receiver Bill Schroeder led Green Bay's receivers with four catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Favre spread the ball to eight different receivers. He was in complete control in the third quarter on a 12-play, 75-yard drive. He completed eight passes to four different receivers and capped the march with a one-yard touchdown toss to tight end Bubba Franks as the Packers stretched their lead to 28-6.

"I would say that's the old Favre that we all know and love and want to see on a daily basis," said Sherman. "He really made very few mistakes in this football game. The ball was very slick. ... He can throw the ball better on a drier day but I thought he had an exceptional game."

From the get-go.

The Packers scored a touchdown on their first possession for the first time since Oct. 10, 1999 against Tampa Bay. Green Bay then scored on its next two possessions as well.

"I talked to the guys in pregame warmups and told them we haven't scored on the first drive in I don't remember how long," Favre said. "It's not because of what the (opposing) defense has done to us. It's simple. It's a mistake here, a holding penalty there. A dropped pass. A bad read. It's been what we've done. I said if we can go out and relax and play our type of football, we should be able to get the football in (the end zone). I didn't think we'd score on the first three drives. I was happy with the first drive. It was better execution."

When Favre wasn't passing, he was handing off to running back Ahman Green, who rushed 17 times for 157 yards, four yards shy of his career high, and two touchdowns. Green missed Green Bay's final three exhibition games with a groin injury, but that didn't slow him down against the Lions.

"With a groin injury, that's basically the center of your body," Green said. "Being a running back you use that area a lot. The questions got answered real early with the the big run. I knew what I could and couldn't do."

Favre wasted no time going after Detroit's depleted secondary. The Lions played without starting safeties Ron Rice and Kurt Schulz, and starting cornerback Bryant Westbrook because of injuries. The Lions also were without backup cornerback Robert Bailey.

Green Bay had five plays of 20 or more yards and scored three touchdowns in the first 10 minutes, 31 seconds of the game to take a 21-0 lead. Green scored touchdowns on runs of 31 and 83 yards while Schroeder caught three passes for 92 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass from Favre.

"The offense wanted to come out and put some points on the board," said Schroeder. "We haven't scored in the first drive in the first 15 (scripted plays) in a long time and we wanted to do that right away."

Favre connected on a 34-yard pass to Schroeder on Green Bay's first play from scrimmage to set up Green's first touchdown. Detroit was penalized for being offside, moving the ball Green Bay's 31. Green then zipped through a huge hole on the right side of the line, broke an arm tackle by safety Tommy Bennett and high-stepped his way to a Lambeau Leap.

Detroit moved to Green Bay's 35 on the next series, but Green Bay's defense got the ball back at the Packers 35 by stopping Detroit's James Stewart on a fourth and one.

"That fourth and one early in the game was a critical play in the football game," Sherman said.

One play after Green recovered a fumbled pitch from Favre, Favre split the middle of Detroit's defense with a 35-yard strike to Schroeder to Detroit's 23. Schroeder then beat veteran cornerback Todd Lyght down the right sideline and made a nice catch in the end zone to give Green Bay a 14-0 lead with 6:08 left in the first quarter.

Green Bay's defense, which rarely blitzed Detroit in the game, again shut down the Lions, forcing them to punt after three plays. Green took a handoff and appeared to be stopped at the 15 by linebacker Stephen Boyd and tackle Kelvin Pritchett, but he bounced free to the outside, got a key block from Antonio Freeman and outran linebacker Chris Clairborne for an 87-yard touchdown. It was Green's longest touchdown run of his career.

Detroit only advanced into the red zone once in the first half and had to settle for field goals of 49 and 39 yards by Jason Hanson.

The Lions took advantage of Green's fumble and moved 41 yards to the Packers' 5 yard line with 41 seconds left in the second quarter on Batch's 27- and 6-yard completions to Stewart. Batch tried to hit wide receiver Herman Moore in the end zone on the next play, but Sharper picked it off and ran it out to the Packers' 2 with a couple of seconds left in the half.

"Sharper's turnover at the end of the first half was a key to the game," Sherman said. "They were kind of moving the ball at the end of the second quarter, but Sharper's interception was a key for us."

Sharper got his second interception of the game late in the fourth quarter. He returned it for a touchdown, but it was called back because of an illegal block.

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