Packers-Lions rivalry lopsided in return game, too

Eric Goska
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Where have you gone Lem Barney? The Motor City turns its runback-deprived eyes to you.

Sometimes it's not what a team has done, but what it hasn't done that commands attention. Such is the case with the Detroit Lions, the Packers' opponent Sunday.

Nearly 12 years have passed since the Lions last had a return for a touchdown against the Packers. Detroit has not reached the end zone with a kickoff, punt, interception, blocked kick, missed field goal or fumble in the past 23 games between the teams.

It's the longest drought by the Lions in the series that dates to 1930. That this dry spell aligns with an unprecedented streak of Packers' dominance can't be purely coincidental.

Those with a long memory might recall Az-Zahir Hakim. A wide receiver, he started 27 games for the Lions (2002-04, 2006) while doubling as a kick returner.

Harken back to Sept. 22, 2002. The Lions have but two wins in their 18 previous games and host the Packers in their first-ever regular-season game at Ford Field.

Green Bay is forced into a three-and-out on its first possession. Josh Bidwell punts to Eddie Drummond (filling in for the injured Desmond Howard), who hands off to Hakim at the Lions' 28-yard line.

Fifteen seconds after Rob Davis snaps the ball to Bidwell, the play is over. Hakim is in the end zone and the Lions are up 7-0.

That's the last time a Detroit player crossed Green Bay's goal line with a return of any kind. To put that in perspective, Davante Adams, the Packers' second-round draft pick this year, was three months shy of his 10th birthday at the time.

The Vikings and Bears haven't suffered this fate. Minnesota has four TD returns in its past 23 meetings with the Packers. Chicago has nine.

It's not as if the Lions lack for opportunities. Combine the categories that make up the big three in returns — interceptions, kickoffs and punts — and the Lions (178 total) have had more chances to break a long one in their last 23 encounters with Green Bay than have the Bears (175) or the Vikings (165).

Also, Detroit has recorded 29 touchdowns via return (tied for 15th best) over the past 11 years (2003-13) — just not against the Packers.

During that timeframe, R.W. McQuarters (in 2005) and Aveion Cason (2007) had the Lions' longest returns against the Packers. McQuarters zipped 73 yards with a Ryan Longwell kickoff before safety Nick Collins caught him at the Green Bay 16-yard line. Cason dashed 74 yards with Mason Crosby's kickoff only to be stopped by cornerback Tramon Williams at the Packers' 24.

The Lions lost both times, something they've grown accustomed to in their series with Green Bay. The Packers have defeated them 19 times since Hakim's last hurrah.

The Lions started life as the Portsmouth Spartans. Aside from failing to reach the end zone with a return in their first 12 games against the Packers and another stretch of the same length from 1957-62, the team has nicked Green Bay for touchdowns in the return game many times.

Barney, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, was one of the few to do so more than once. The cornerback returned three interceptions for touchdowns at the expense of the Packers, including one in his first game as a pro in 1967.

Over the years, Detroit's record against Green Bay in games in which it springs a return for a touchdown is 18-13-2. It is 5-0 when recording more than one.

And the Packers?

Green Bay has had 11 returns (nine interceptions, two fumbles) for touchdowns in its past 23 games with the Lions. In the 10 games in which those scores occurred, the Packers went 9-1, the lone loss coming last Thanksgiving when Detroit shrugged off Morgan Burnett's fumble return with 37 unanswered points.

Extra point

Jack Christiansen holds the Lions' record for most returns for touchdown against the Packers. The defensive back had six (four punts, two interceptions) in a span of seven years (1951-57).

Regular-season series

Overall: Green Bay leads 94-66-7

At Ford Field: Packers lead 8-4

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (59-30 overall; 9-1 vs. Detroit)

Lions: Matthew Stafford (25-38; 1-6 vs. Green Bay)

Once a Lion, now a Packer

There are no former Lions on the Packers' roster.

Once a Packer, now a Lion

Wide receiver Jeremy Ross (2012-13) is a former Packer.


Invisible Fencing

Most consecutive regular-season games in which the Packers prevented the Lions from scoring a touchdown on any type of return and Detroit's record in those games.

No. Years Record

23 2002-13 4-19

12 1930-36 4-7-1

12 1982-88 7-5

10 1957-62 4-5-1

8 1942-45 1-7

7 1975-78 3-4

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