December 26, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Mike O'Hara: Burning Questions

Lions show they can endure injuries

Lions quarterback Shaun Hill performed capably despite a broken right index finger. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

The Lions will do well to keep the focus on their quarterbacks' body parts.

The preoccupation over Shaun Hill's broken right index finger and Drew Stanton's left shoulder is hiding bigger contributions to their late-season upturn.

The quarterbacks have been the lead story, and rightfully so, in a winning streak that has grown to three games with Sunday's 34-27 road victory over the Dolphins.

But tough, gritty work is being done at other positions by players who aren't waiting for the quarterback to save the day. That was evident again Sunday, when the defense showed up in full force late in the fourth quarter.

The Lions are playing like winners at the end of the season. They're building a foundation for 2011.

"We want to be playing for something more important than the playoffs," coach Jim Schwartz said in his postgame radio interview. "That's the direction of this team.

"We've won three in a row. It says a lot about this team. We're not at full strength. We need to go back and finish strong next week against Minnesota."

In the final four minutes, the defense came up with two interceptions and a game-ending tackle to put the lid on a 17-point rally.

Hill's performance answered one key question going into the game, but it was only one of the following burning questions:

Q. Did Schwartz make the right decision in starting Hill over Stanton?

A. Yes, based on the result. Hill missed the previous three games because of the broken index finger. The one thing the coaches know that outsiders don't is the health of their players.

Stanton suffered a Grade 3 separation of his left shoulder the previous week. I would have started Stanton if he was healthy because he won two straight games, but starting Hill was not the wrong decision.

Q. How well did Hill play?

A. He managed the game well and made some big throws. He outplayed Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne. That's not saying a lot because the Dolphins are not sold on Henne.

Hill had two TD passes and no interceptions. Henne had a TD pass and two interceptions.

Q. Should Hill start the final game next week against the Vikings?

A. Yes. No doubt.

Q. What were the key plays late in the game?

A. One was a short catch that Jahvid Best took 53 yards for a touchdown. The defense made the others.

Q. Start with Best. What was special about his play?

A. First, Best shows his ability in the open field. He has had turf toe in both feet since early in the season, but he showed his speed after taking a short throw to cut Miami's lead to 27-24. Once Best got into Miami's secondary, one block by Nate Burleson helped him go the distance.

Q. How significant was Burleson's block?

A. Huge. For starters, Burleson wasn't just a spectator on the play. He cleared out the last Miami defender inside the 10-yard line.

Q. The Lions have been playing with a patchwork secondary, but they got big plays from Nate Vasher at right cornerback. How important were they?

A. They probably won the game. On a third-and-11, Vasher's diving interception gave the Lions' possession at Miami's 36 with 3:41 left. That set up Dave Rayner's field goal to make it 27-27.

Until then, Vasher was having a tough game, but he kept competing. And he had one more big play to come.

Q. Next up was Levy's 30-yard interception return for the winning touchdown with 2:11 left. What set that up?

A. The pass rush was getting to Henne. He escaped sacks, but passes were batted down at the line, and he was forced to run, and to throw on the run.

Levy got in front of a short pass meant for Davone Bess for the interception, then ran like a big tailback to score the touchdown.

"He hasn't been at his best physically, but he found a way to get out and contribute," Schwartz said in the radio interview.

Q. Vasher tackled Ronnie Brown inbounds for no gain at the 28 on the last play. Miami didn't have time to run another play. Was it a good play by Vasher or a bad one by Henne to throw that pass with no timeouts left?

A. A little of both, but Vasher's good play was better than Henne's bad play.

For the Lions, that's a good thing.