The Detroit Lions rediscovered Barry Sanders just in time Sunday to unleash him on the winless Chicago Bears, who have plummeted to their lowest point in almost three decades.
Sanders, held to 53 yards in the season's first two games, rushed for 161 against the Bears as the Lions rolled to a 32-7 victory.
"Up to this point, the problem was me," said first-year Detroit Coach Bobby Ross, who had blamed himself for not giving Sanders enough carries. "Boy, it is nice to have him on your side when he is hot like that."
While Sanders and the Lions (2-1) excelled, Chicago looked plain awful after two decent but not-quite-good-enough efforts. The last time the Bears opened with three losses was 1969, when they went 1-13 in the team's worst season.
Chicago also lost former 1,000-yard rusher Rashaan Salaam for the season because of a broken right leg. The Bears were repeatedly burned by Scott Mitchell's passing and got poor performances from starting quarterback Erik Kramer and backup Rick Mirer.
Linebacker Bryan Cox said the Bear defense looked baffled but shouldn't have been because it knew the Lions were going to go to Sanders.
"No. 20 dominated the game," Cox said. "He was simply Barry. He got us going the way he wanted us to go, and he cut back and made a lot of plays."
Indeed, Sanders was at his juking, darting best in demonstrating why he has 11,939 yards rushing, sixth on the NFL's career list.
After averaging only 2.1 yards in 25 carries in the first two games, Sanders averaged 8.5 yards in 19 attempts.
"In the first two games, we weren't finishing plays," said Mitchell, who was 16-of-25 passing for 215 yards and two touchdowns. "So we went back to basics--run the ball, make the blocks. We didn't panic."