December 30, 2009

1995: Eagles Defeat Lions in High-Scoring NFL Postseason Game

The Detroit Lions came on strong in the second half of the 1995 season, winning their last seven consecutive games to finish at 10-6 and in second place in the NFC Central. They had a high-powered offense, directed by QB Scott Mitchell, who passed for 4338 yards and 32 touchdowns. He had excellent receivers, led by WR Herman Moore, who set an NFL record with his 123 pass receptions, and fellow WR Brett Perriman, who also reached triple figures with 108 catches. Together they accumulated 3174 yards between them (Moore with 1686, Perriman adding 1488). And they had the explosive Barry Sanders at running back (1500 yards rushing).

They certainly seemed to be on a roll, and veteran OT Lomas Brown guaranteed a win in the Wild Card playoff game, set for December 30, 1995 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The Eagles had also finished at 10-6 and in second place in the NFC East. But while they had an outstanding running game featuring Ricky Watters (1273 yards rushing, 62 catches and 434 yards receiving) and change-of-pace back Charlie Garner, they had the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing offense and were outscored by their opponents over the course of the schedule (318-338). QB Rodney Peete (pictured above), formerly of the Lions, had taken over at quarterback for the benched Randall Cunningham and performed above expectations. The Eagles were a team that played at a high emotional level, as exemplified by first-year Head Coach Ray Rhodes (pictured below), and it had carried them into the playoffs.

The possibility of an offensive explosion in this playoff game was quite real, but no one, including the 66,099 fans in attendance, could have anticipated the number of points that went up on the scoreboard, or that it would be the Eagles scoring so prodigiously.

At the end of the first quarter, the game was tied at 7-7, but in the second quarter Philadelphia exploded for 31 unanswered points. Peete threw two touchdown passes, including a desperation pass on the last play of the first half that turned into a 43-yard scoring reception by WR Rob Carpenter; CB Barry Wilburn returned an intercepted pass 24 yards for a score; and Watters contributed a one-yard TD run. At halftime, the score was 38-7.

It was 51-7 before the Lions, with Don Majkowski having replaced the ineffective Mitchell at quarterback, finally got on the board again. Peete threw his third TD pass, of 45 yards, to Watters and Gary Anderson contributed his second and third field goals of the game. Majkowski then threw the first of his three touchdown passes, of 68 yards to Moore, and hit WR Johnnie Morton on a seven-yard pass play to make the score a slightly-more-respectable 51-21 at the end of the third quarter.

Eagles LB William Thomas capped the Philadelphia scoring with a 30-yard interception return in the fourth quarter, while Detroit put 16 more points on the board in a too-little, too-late effort that made the final tally 58-37.

The total of 95 points beat the previous record of 79 (accomplished twice) by 16 points [ADDENDUM: the record was broken on Jan. 10, 2010 when the Cardinals and Packers combined for 96 points]. The Eagles outgained the Lions, 452 to 422 yards. Rodney Peete showed up his former team as he completed 17 of 25 passes for 270 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. WR Fred Barnett caught 8 passes for 109 yards and a 22-yard TD. Garner led the rushers with 78 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.

The two Detroit quarterbacks threw for 361 yards with four TDs and six interceptions. Moore caught 7 passes for 133 yards, while WR Aubrey Matthews, who caught just four passes all season but replaced the injured Perriman in the first quarter, also had 7 receptions (73 yards). Sanders was a non-factor, accumulating just 40 yards on 10 carries.

Coach Rhodes and defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas used extra defensive backs, including safety Mike Zordich at linebacker, and it worked to fluster Mitchell and derail the Detroit offense (Mitchell pictured below being chased by DE Danny Stubbs).

Afterward, a chastened Lomas Brown said, “Any time you turn the ball over six times, you could play a high school team and you're not going to win. They had the better team today. They beat us convincingly.” (Actually, it was seven turnovers with a fumble added to the pickoffs).

Detroit Head Coach Wayne Fontes acknowledged that the Eagles had beaten the Lions at their own game: "Well, first it was 7-7 and then I turned around and it was 31-7. We're usually that type of team. We're used to getting up on teams like that."

The Eagles came back down to earth in the NFC Divisional playoff game, losing decisively at Dallas. Detroit dropped to 5-11 in 1996, although they made it to the postseason twice more in the following three years, again losing in the first round in each instance.