How it happened: Desmond Howard's 167 punt return yards

Multiple records were set at Detroit

Former Packers WR Desmond Howard

Resuming a series that began last summer, is taking a look back at some of the team's single-game records and how the individual set the mark. The series continues with Desmond Howard's 167 punt return yards on Dec. 15, 1996.

GREEN BAY – Breaking the Packers' previous single-game record for punt return yards was almost too easy for Desmond Howard.

In mid-December 1996 at the Pontiac Silverdome, he did it in the first half with room to spare.

Howard's dynamic season as the Packers' primary return man had two defining postseason performances – 117 punt return yards, including a 71-yard TD, in the muddy divisional-round victory over the 49ers; and, of course, the 244 total return yards (154 on kickoffs, 90 on punts), including a 99-yard kickoff return TD, to earn MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXI.

This visit to Detroit was the outing late in the regular season that foreshadowed the playoff heroics to come.

Late in the first quarter, Howard returned Mark Royals' first punt 22 yards to the Detroit 35-yard line, setting up a field goal for an early 3-0 Green Bay lead.

Royals' next punt, early in the second quarter, was the big highlight, as Howard took it the distance, 92 yards for the score.

With that return, Howard broke the NFL single-season record for punt return yards set in 1985 by Fulton Walker (692) and would go on to finish the regular season with 875 yards, a league mark that still stands. The touchdown also was his third of the season, one shy of the league record.

But Howard wasn't done. He ran Royals' next punt back 37 yards into Detroit territory, giving him 151 punt return yards on the day, already plenty more than the previous franchise record of 129 by Phillip Epps in a blowout win over Tampa Bay in 1983.

The Packers didn't take advantage of the field position to add to their 10-0 lead, as QB Brett Favre eventually was intercepted at the goal line. But it didn't much matter because this game was never close.

Howard had one more 10-yard punt return by the end of the half to give him 161 yards at halftime, and he added a 6-yard return early in the third quarter for his final total of 167.

He almost certainly would have compiled more, but the Lions did not punt on any of their final three possessions as the Packers ran away with a 31-3 victory to improve to 12-3 on the season. Detroit's last three drives resulted in a field goal, an interception in the red zone, and the expiration of the game clock.

Despite playing just two seasons for the Packers, 1996 and '99, Howard still ranks second on the franchise's all-time list for punt return yards with 968, behind only Willie Wood's 1,391 career yards.

Comparatively, Wood reached that total with 187 returns, a 7.4-yard average. Howard got to his total on just 70 returns, a 13.8-yard average, the career franchise record.


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