Detroit Lions Lookback: Erik Kramer, The 1991 season
1991 was the last time the Detroit Lions won in the playoffs and Erik Kramer led them there. Here’s how the underrated quarterback accomplished the feat.
Even though he played in more games as a Chicago Bear, Erik Kramer was a winner with the Detroit Lions. In three seasons and 15 games as a starter, Kramer went 10-5, threw for 23 touchdowns against 19 interceptions, and had the aforementioned playoff victory in 1991 which was delivered wire-to-wire against the Dallas Cowboys.
Let me just say that I am not engaging in revisionist history here. I’m not granting him “franchise quarterback” status, I am simply saying that Erik Kramer was a serviceable starter for Detroit and the Lions’ current franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford is doing all he can in order to meet and exceed Kramer’s postseason win total for Detroit.
In 1991, the Lions’ all-time leader in wins (and losses!) Wayne Fontes was head coach and that was a career year for him. He steered Detroit to a franchise best 12-4 season which resulted in a division crown for the team in the old NFC Central and Fontes personally received the NFL’s Coach of the Year award.
That year the Lions also featured pro bowlers Barry Sanders, Mel Gray, Chris Spielman, Bennie Blades, Jerry Ball, and Lomas Brown.
After Rodney Peete began the season starting at quarterback with a 45-0 loss against the Washington Redskins, he ceded the starting gig to Kramer midway through the season after posting six wins and two losses.
Kramer would go on to match Peete’s 6-2 win-loss record as he also threw for more yards and touchdowns and threw one less interception than his predecessor. Kramer didn’t set the football world on fire with his statistics but the offense had more of a spark with him leading it.
Detroit lost their first two starts with Kramer at quarterback but they rebounded nicely by winning their final six consecutive games by notching key wins over the Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, and Chicago Bears.
Beating the Bears was especially sweet because it gave the Lions a one game edge in the race for the division title. That one game margin was enough to propel Detroit as division champions, knocking their longtime rivals down to the Wild Card round.
Although third year signal caller Troy Aikman was 7-5 in his 12 starts that season, a critical injury suffered late in the regular season during a game against the Redskins caused him to miss Dallas’ final four games. Backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein went undefeated from that point on for the Cowboys to close out the season.
In the weeks leading up to the NFC Divisional Round, Aikman was deemed as healthy by his medical staff but Dallas head coach Jimmy Johnson decided to stay with Beuerlein as his starter for the playoffs due to him having the “hot hand”.
Dallas defeated Chicago 17-13 in the Wild Card game and that paved the way for their matchup with Detroit.
On January 5, 1992 the home team fans at the old Pontiac Silverdome were raucous. You could seemingly cut through the exciting atmosphere with a knife and expectations for the afternoon were at a fever pitch because the Lions were undefeated at home that season and were riding an eight game win streak in their building.
Detroit quickly gave their fans something to cheer for as Erik Kramer hit wide receiver Willie Green for a 31 yard touchdown during the Lions’ first possession.
Steve Beuerlein was intercepted on a pick-six by Mel Jenkins and after Detroit tacked on an additional field goal in the first half to take a 17-6 lead, Beuerlein was supplanted at quarterback by Troy Aikman shortly thereafter.
All Pro running back Barry Sanders finished the 1991 season with an impressive 1,548 total rushing yards and 16 touchdowns but against Dallas, he was relatively pedestrian. Sanders ended the game on 12 carries, 69 yards (47 of which came on a single run), and a touchdown.
Barry was known for being the be-all and end-all offensively for Detroit during his era but it was Kramer who can lay claim to an all-pro performance during that game.
Erik Kramer went 29 for 38 and threw for 341 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His final quarterback rating was 129.4.
During the divisional game, Detroit could do no wrong as they romped their way to a 38-6 rout of Dallas.
Detroit’s Cinderella run came to an end one week later after suffering a 41-10 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins.
No one could have envisioned at the time that that would be Detroit’s lone playoff win in the last 25+ years.
As the organization gears up for another year, you always hope that the new year will finally be the year that the Lions can exorcise their playoff demons.
The organization (and fans) may be anxious to gain their footing in the postseason but that doesn’t mean that Erik Kramer’s 1991 performance should be forgotten.
For a team that is short on modern championship glory, performances like Kramer’s versus Dallas provides the fan base with fond memories.