December 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Mike O'Hara: Burning Questions

Lions make their own luck with tough, clutch plays

Lions receiver Calvin Johnson breaks upfield after a reception over Corey Lynch of the Bucs in the second quarter on Sunday. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

It wasn't fate, luck or any mystical force that let the Lions break one of the worst of the many bad streaks that have suffocated them for the last decade.

It was pure football -- good, tough, clutch football when needed most.

Making winning plays was the difference for the Lions in Sunday's 23-20 overtime victory over the Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla.

The Lions ended a 26-game road losing streak, longest in NFL history, and are on a two-game winning streak. The last time the Lions won on the road or won two straight was in 2007.

This week's burning questions center on what ending the streak means, and the plays and players that made the difference -- starting with the most obvious one:

Q. How important was it to end the road losing streak?

A. Finally, this group of players doesn't have to answer questions about a 19-game losing streak in the NFC North (snapped last week with a 7-3 win over Green Bay) or the road streak.

No matter how much they didn't want to talk about it, it was always there -- like a teenager on a blind date with a cold sore on his lip. Try to pretend nobody notices.

Q. Coach Jim Schwartz maintained his message to the players is always about winning games, not ending streaks. Does he really mean that?

A. He means it, but winning for the Lions means breaking bad streaks and starting good ones. Schwartz knows that, too. He gave a double fist pump when Dave Rayner made the winning field goal. That shows how much winning meant to the franchise.

Q. Did playing close games all season help Sunday?

A. Yes, because the Lions competed hard and stayed in contention instead of getting blown out of games.

"We're used to playing close games," is how Schwartz put it in his postgame radio interview. "That's something this franchise hasn't been used to in a long time.

"We're seeing some good things, and we're becoming a little more battle hardened."

Q. Who were the key individual players?

A. On offense: quarterback Drew Stanton, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, running back Maurice Morris and the offensive line. On defense: whoever made the play at a particular time.

Q. It was Stanton's third straight start, and his second win. Should Stanton start next week, even if Shaun Hill can play?

A. There has to be a reward for winning, and Stanton has won. He played well Sunday. He didn't have a turnover, and he led three clutch drives to field goals.

One at the end of the first half cut Tampa Bay's lead to 14-10. Another put Rayner in position to tie the game on the last play of regulation. Then the overtime drive won it.

"He played probably his best game since I've seen him," Schwartz said.

Q. How important were Morris and the running game?

A. The offensive line gave him lanes, and Morris ran hard. That made a difference for the second straight game.

The Lions rushed for 190 yards against the Packers and 181 against the Bucs. Morris led the way Sunday with 109 on 15 carries.

He got the winning drive going in overtime with a 26-yard run out to the 47. It was a huge play.

"Maurice Morris was our lifeblood today," is how Schwartz put it.

Morris showed guts with his performance.

"He was hurting every single play, taking deep breaths, trying to keep his mind off the pain," Stanton said in his postgame radio interview.

Q. Calvin Johnson dominated the game with 10 catches for 152 yards. What were the biggest catches?

A. Start with the last drive in regulation -- a 23-yard lunging catch to the Bucs 22, and he rolled out of bounds to stop the clock.

Then in overtime, he made a leaping 12-yard catch on third-and8 to the Bucs' 25. The ball would have been overthrown for every receiver in the league except Johnson.

"Megatron came through for me," is how Stanton described it.

Q. The defense had problems tackling at times but held the Bucs to field goals deep in their territory on their last two possessions. What did that show?

A. Schwartz put it this way: "We didn't always look great on defense. We came up with a couple stops and held them to field goals when we needed them."

Q. Can the Lions win at Miami next week?

A. Why not? They're on a winning streak, aren't they?