GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Forget about the dueling MVPs. This was about dueling kick returners.
And once again, Green Bay prevailed.
In the first matchup of reigning MVPs in NFL history, Brett Favre's Packers beat Barry Sanders' Detroit Lions 38-19 on Sunday.
Or was it Roell Preston's Packers over Terry Fair's Lions?
Sanders' streak of 14 consecutive regular-season 100-yard rushing games came to an end as he gained 70 yards in 17 carries. Favre was a workmanlike 23-for-31 for 193 yards and a touchdown before hooking up with Antonio Freeman for an 84-yard TD toss with 1:53 left.
But the kick returners stole this show.
Fair, a rookie from Tennessee, returned a kickoff 101 yards for a TD as the third quarter ended, pulling Detroit to 24-19.
"It really changed the tempo of the game," Lions receiver Herman Moore said.
For all of 22 seconds.
Preston promptly retorted with a 100-yard TD return to restore Green Bay's 12-point lead, 31-19.
"By golly, we let them right off the hook," Lions coach Bobby Ross lamented.
"It was like deja vu all over again," said Fair, who saw the same thing happen to him in the Arizona state championship back in high school.
"When they scored, I just knew I had to do something," Preston said.
Fair's attempt at a third straight TD ended at his 24, when tired tacklers Bill Schroeder and Roosevelt Blackmon finished the madness.
"Some guys were putting on the oxygen masks after that," Packers special teams ace Travis Jervey said.
"I didn't like the first one," Green Bay defensive end Reggie White proclaimed. "But the second one was beautiful."
Packers coach Mike Holmgren couldn't have received a better response.
"It was huge, because the momentum shift that takes place when you have one against you is big," Holmgren said. "It kind of got quiet there. But then those guys rallied. The return team got in there kind of mad because it's a lot of the same people who just gave up the return."
Fair returned six kickoffs for 244 yards and Preston returned four for 163.
The Packers have won 28 straight games at Lambeau Field, including four playoffs.
They ran their streak to 37 quarters without allowing a TD pass before Scott Mitchell's 25-yard scoring strike in the third quarter to Moore, who caught nine passes for 100 yards despite a torn groin muscle.
The TD capped a drive that began at the 50 thanks to Fair's 49-yard return. But Mitchell's 2-point conversion pass failed, leaving the Lions down 17-12.
The Packers ate up nearly 10 minutes on an 18-play, 85-yard drive capped with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Freeman over cornerback Bryant Westbrook with 17 seconds left in the third quarter. And they did it with Robert Brooks, playing less than a month after a back operation, was catching a breather.
The Lions answered in a flash.
Fair returned the kickoff 101 yards and the Lions were down just 24-19 entering the fourth quarter.
Preston matched the magic with a return that began with him winding through tacklers and ended with him gyrating to the fans and diving into the end zone.
"That's my trademark," he explained.
"We made the right decision keeping him," strong safety LeRoy Butler said of Preston, who beat out Glyn Milburn.
The Packers jumped to a 17-3 lead, turning Detroit's first possession into seven points.
On fourth-and-inches from his 41, Mitchell tried a sneak, but he went into the pile standing straight up instead of getting his pads low and was spun around by tackle Santana Dotson.
Linebacker Brian Williams stripped the ball and Butler scooped it up, rumbling 32 yards for a 10-0 lead.
"The basis for my thinking there was we needed one inch," Ross said. "On top of that, we have to try to keep the ball out of Favre's hands."
Jason Hanson kicked field goals from 47 and 43 yards for Detroit in between Dorsey Levens' 4-yard TD run for the Packers. Levens gained 59 yards on 25 carries a week after he ended his contract holdout. He also caught seven passes for 38 yards.
"I guess that's their definition of working me in slowly," Levens said.
[bf]Notes:[nf] The last time there were back-to-back kickoff returns for TDs was Dec. 20, 1987, when San Francisco's Joe Cribbs countered Sylverter Stamps' 97-yard return for Atlanta with a 92-yard TD return. ... The 81-degree temperature at kickoff was the warmest for a Packers home opener in eight years. ... Packers free safety Darren Sharper missed playing time with dizziness after knocking helmets with teammate Keith McKenzie. ... Mike Prior got his 35th career interception, ending Detroit's last gasp with 2:22 left.
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