October 10, 2010 at 1:00 am

Mike O'Hara: Burning Questions

Lions' Victory Formation long-awaited

Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson, bearing a special message underneath his jersey, gets the crowd going near the end of a 44-6 win over the Rams on Sunday at Ford Field. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Detroit -- The last three were the sweetest.

What is a routine part of the game for most NFL teams had become a distant memory for the Lions.

The Victory Formation — a play where the quarterback takes the snap from center and drops to one knee knowing victory is in hand — was hauled out from the depths of their playbook for the final three plays of Sunday’s 44-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams at Ford Field.

Even for offensive starters who were out of the game and watched from the sideline it was a sweet moment when Drew Stanton took the snap for three kneel-downs to run out the clock.

The Lions had gone 44 games without running the Victory Formation, since a 44-7 victory over Denver on Nov. 4, 2007. That’s an incredible drought.

“We talk about it every week at the last practice Saturday,” Backus said. “It’s how you want to finish the game.”

I’d say that a little stronger. Losing would have been intolerable. If they didn’t face a must-win situation against the Rams, it was better-not-lose. The team was being tested to the breaking point. The ramifications of losing to a mediocre Rams team would have been disastrous.

“This team needed it,” Peterman said.

The chronology of the Lions’ Victory Formation drought is as follows:Number of plays: 2,753 offensive plays run since their last Victory Formation.

Total time: Two years, 11 months, 6 days and 3 minutes - a total of 1,070 days.

The three minutes are added because Sunday’s game was three minutes longer than the 2007 game against Denver.

There were a few exceptions, but most of the burning questions had happy answers for the Lions in winning their first game of the season.

Q: What was the key element in the victory? A: The Lions never caved in. They overcame setbacks, and it started early. They got only a field goal when they recovered an onside kick on the opening kickoff. Their lead was 3-0 when it could have been 7-0.

“Those type of things are going to happen,” quarterback Shaun Hill said. “That has to be your mentality.”

Q: Hill threw three TD passes and won his fourth straight start against the Rams. How much did it help that he played against the Rams last year, with head coach Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive scheme? A. It gave him a slight edge. Even though there are some new players, he knew the basic system.

“I was able to go back and look at some of the stuff from last year,” Hill said. “It did help a little bit.”

Q: Rookie running back Jahvid Best has played the last two weeks after injuring his big toe in Game 3. He was effective Sunday — 18 carries for 67 yards, four catches for 37 yards. What did it mean for Best to stay in the lineup? A: He has built credibility and trust with his teammates, and that’s important. The veterans won’t wonder about his commitment.

“He grown up fast professionally,” center Dominic Raiola said. “He’s doing what it takes to get on the field. That’s huge.”

Q: Nate Burleson returned after missing almost three full games with a sprained right ankle. What did his presence mean? A: Hill already was doing a good job of spreading the ball around, and Burleson gave him a second receiver opposite Calvin Johnson. The upgrade to Burleson from the others was noticeable. Burleson caught the ball and gained yards after the catch.

Q: The Lions had a 34-6 lead in the fourth quarter when they called a halfback option pass thrown by Best. Right call? A: The play would have worked — a pass to tight end Tony Scheffler — but Best didn’t get the ball to him. They already led by 28 points. It would have been better to save it for another game.

Q: Evaluate Sam Bradford, the Rams’ rookie quarterback.

A: Good arm, accurate — but overwhelmed when the game got out of reach and he had to pass on almost every down. Just like any other rookie.

Q: Hill has played well since replacing Matthew Stafford in the first game. Should he keep the job when Stafford’s shoulder heals? A: No. Hill has done what a good backup should do — keep the offense running. But it’s Stafford’s job, and he should play as soon as he’s ready.