PAUL SANCYA / AP Enlarge
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Matthew Stafford, sure. Ndamukong Suh, you bet.
But there's no way the Lions looked ahead to the 2010 season and figured on veteran quarterback Shaun Hill playing a major role.
The Lions acquired Hill in the offseason as a backup to Stafford, a former No. 1 pick. But it was Hill who was the offensive star of Detroit's first win of the season, a 44-6 thumping of St. Louis on Sunday. In his fourth start since Stafford was injured in the season opener, Hill threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns in the much-needed victory.
“I wish so badly that it didn't take so long to get this feeling, but it does feel great to get a win in the way that we did,” Hill said. “Everybody scored: offense, defense, special teams — everybody. It was a fun one.”
Fun for now, anyway. The Lions (1-4) get the Giants and their rugged defense next week. But for now, beating the Rams feels great.
Detroit won just two games the previous two seasons, and the Lions could easily have been headed for disaster after Stafford hurt his throwing shoulder in the opener against Chicago. Instead, with Hill at quarterback, they've been competitive in their losses and finally broke through against the Rams.
Hill hasn't been spectacular, but he has enabled Detroit to stay in games. The Lions have lost games by five, three and two points this season.
On Sunday, Hill was nearly flawless, completing 21 of 32 passes without an interception. His single-game passer rating of 117.6 was the second-highest of his career.
“I thought Shaun was outstanding in this game — number one in protecting the football,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “He was moving the ball around to a lot of different playmakers.”
That's why the Lions traded for him in the offseason.
Hill won three of his six starts for San Francisco last season. Meanwhile, Detroit lost all six games when Stafford was out with injuries last year, struggling with Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton leading the offense.
This season, the Lions have scored 126 points, the most in the NFC. They broke Sunday's game open in the second quarter, when Hill threw touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew. The 3-yard touchdown pass to Pettigrew came after Hill had nearly six seconds to drop back and find the tight end in the middle of the end zone.
“Those were great drives. I can't say enough about how great the offensive line played,” the 30-year-old Hill said. “That last touchdown to Brandon there right before halftime, I don't know if I've ever had that much time on a pass play.”
The Lions are still eager to have Stafford taking snaps again. Only then will Detroit catch another glimpse of what the top pick in the 2009 draft might bring for the future along with Suh, this year's No. 2 pick, wreaking havoc on the defensive line.
Schwartz said Monday that Stafford is “making progress” but gave no indication when he might play again. He said Hill's performance won't affect Stafford's outlook.
“Matt's timetable has really nothing to do with Shaun,” he said.
Detroit is still waiting for a chance to play at full strength on offense. Wide receiver Nate Burleson returned Sunday after missing two games with an ankle injury. He was one of five players with four catches each against St. Louis.
Now, Detroit is concerned about Johnson, the team's best receiver, who hurt his right shoulder late in the game. Schwartz said Monday the team was “doing some tests” on Johnson, whose shoulder was wrapped in ice during the fourth quarter.
Still, no matter who is in the lineup, the Lions can be dangerous. Hill's effort Sunday was proof of that.
“We've been right there every week,” Hill said. “You don't get discouraged by that. … We believe in the stuff we're doing.”