MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Burning questions: Running, passing, kicking and beating the heat – what went into a winning combination for the Detroit Lions in their 32-21 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in sweltering weather Sunday afternoon.
Question: What did the Lions show with their performance in their first game back from the bye?
Answer: They showed that they can run the ball when they want to, throw it when they want to, kick it in the clutch – and as important as anything, go on the road with the weather against them and be the better team.
The bottom line: They're 3-1 since losing their first two games, and they've beaten the Patriots and Packers at Ford Field, and beaten the Dolphins on their home field – where they'd been 3-0 before Sunday's loss and were tied with the Patriots for first place in the AFC East with a 4-2 record.
Q. Lions' offense: What did it show?
A. It was the most productive balance between running and passing I've seen since the Lions had Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Brett Perriman and Pro Bowl offensive linemen Lomas Brown and Kevin Glover in their prime in the 1990s.
I'm not saying that the Lions have another Barry Sanders. They don't. And nobody does.
But rating the quality of performance for one game, Sunday's was the best in terms of balance since those days.
The key now is to continue it – starting next Sunday against Seattle at Ford Field.
Q. Clutch kick: Any surprise that head coach Matt Patricia sent Matt Prater out to attempt a 50-yard field goal just after the two-minute warning? He made it to make the final margin 11 points, but a miss would have given the ball to the Dolphins near midfield with a chance to tie the game on a touchdown and two-point conversion.
A. No surprise, although the ramifications of a miss were obvious. Prater is one of the league's best clutch kickers at long range, and he did what he's done for the Lions in the past – perform in the clutch.
Q. Run game: Did you expect the Lions to run for 248 yards, with Johnson getting 158 on his own?
A. No. I expected the offense to play well, because this is still a team led by its offense. They may never crack the 200-yard mark again this year, but the Lions have a weapon there that has to be accounted for.
Q. First half: How would you describe it?
A. Dominant by the Lions.
Look at the scoreboard – Lions 17, Dolphins 7. The Lions were in charge, and it was more one-sided that the scoreboard indicated. The Lions had four possessions and scored on three of them – two touchdowns and a field goal.
On offense they chewed up yards and possession time against the Dolphins' defense.
On defense they pretty much chewed up the Dolphins' offense, except for their one touchdown drive, and it needed help on a penalty on third down.
All in all, it was the Lions' best 30 minutes of football this season.
Q. Lions' first TD, key play: What was it– and don't say all of them. You've worn that line out.
A. It was the fourth play of the drive, but actually the fifth snap. The Lions had first and 25 at Miami's 45 because of a 15-yard penalty against tackle Rick Wagner on the previous snap for a chop block.
It was a long-yardage situation that could have torpedoed what was a promising first possession. It didn't. Wide receiver TJ Jones made a sideline catch for 26 yards and a first down. Two plays later, tight end Michael Roberts' 15-yard catch in the end zone gave the Lions a 7-0 lead.
Q. Fourth and kick: Any problem with the Lions going for a field goal instead of a first down on fourth and one at the 11 early in the second quarter?
A. No problem, although emotionally my choice would have been to go for the first down. But cooler heads had to prevail. The Lions were holding a 7-0 lead, and the field goal made it 10-0.
Taking the points to make it a 10-point lead was the right choice, but I wouldn't have argued against going for the first down – if they made it, of course.
Q. Holding on, defense: A penalty against cornerback Nevin Lawson set up the Dolphins' second-quarter touchdown that cut the deficit to 10-7. Right call?
A. It came on a third and 10 at the Lions' 11-yard line, when Brock Osweiler had scrambled and was stopped far short of a first down. The flag against Lawson, who was tied up with a receiver in the end zone, gave the Dolphins the first down.
There has been an emphasis this year for officials to call holding, and players have to adjust. No problem with the call, given the emphasis this year.
Q. Lions' third-quarter blitz: What did it show that the Lions came out rolling on offense in the third quarter and extended their lead to 26-14?
A. On the good side, it showed that they were in command of the game, especially on offense with a touchdown and field goal. And it could have been more. A touchdown catch by Kenny Golladay was wiped out by a holding penalty on Frank Ragnow which forced the Lions to settle for a field goal.
The bad side: Golden Tate dropped a pass that could have been a TD before the field goal, and the defense gave up a 54-yard touchdown run by Kenyan Drake.
The big runs have been a problem since the opening game against the Jets, and although the defense did a good job overall, Drake's run made it 20-14 and let the Dolphins back in the game.
Q. Go for two: Any problem with the Lions going for a two-point conversion that failed after Roberts' second TD catch made the lead 26-14 in the third quarter?
A. No. It's simple math. Kicking the extra point would have made it a 13-point lead. A successful two-point conversion would have been a 14-point lead. Going for two was the right call late in the third quarter.
The way it turned out, Prater's 50-yard field goal on the first play after the two-minute warning made it an 11-point margin.
End of discussion. And the Lions are in the race.