Last Sunday, a particularly intense NFL clash took place between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions. The NFC North clash ended with a 37-34 victory for the Lions, but it was the performance of Calvin Johnson that will truly live long in the memory of Lions’ fans. The moment that changed the game was a particularly impressive play in which Johnson got a 57-yard catch for Matt Prater to kick a game-winning field goal in overtime. It seems that the time was just right for the Lions’ signal caller, Matthew Stafford, to remember that Megatron was on the field after seemingly ignoring the 30-year old veteran for quite a while now.
The play began with Johnson running deep yet again. Fans are used to seeing Megatron run deep lately without ever being chosen for a pass. Even the player himself had probably started to doubt his chances of receiving a pass when he began making the run. However, this time was set to be different. Johnson spotted the signal: Matthew Stafford was doing the crow hop and the ball was about to be sent towards the 6’5” wide receiver. At this stage of the game, the score was locked at 34-34 and seemed to be heading for a tie. Both teams had performed well, with the Bears enjoying a late surge at the start of the fourth quarter.
Fortunately for Lions’ fans, Stafford spotted Johnson up against safety Harold Jones-Quartey and made his decision. He did the crow up and blasted a perfectly-placed 57-yard pass in Johnson’s direction. The wide receiver leaped up above Jones-Quarter to collect the ball. Moments later, Matt Prater was preparing to kick a field goal that would win the game for his team. The field goal itself was a nicely-taken 27-yard shot, giving the Lions those three extra points to push them into the lead and claim their first victory of the season so far.
Looking back on this perfectly-executed play, Stafford revealed that he originally intended to throw the ball towards tight end Timothy Wright. As luck would have it, Wright got taken out of the play. Stafford then momentarily considered a sideline option but finally settled on Johnson. Upon seeing Megatron in a solo matchup against safety player Jones-Quartey, Stafford knew what he had to do. The quarterback revealed that he felt pretty good about Johnson’s chances of outmuscling the safety and claiming the pass. His intuition proved right and the Lions can now look back on a very hard-earned win.
Johnson wasn’t just a key player at the end of the game; he put in a fantastic performance from start to finish. Megatron ended the game with 6 catches for 166 yards. That means that Johnson has now enjoyed 15 separate games of 150+ receiving yards, placing him fourth on the overall leaderboard, just ahead of Randy Moss and Isaac Bruce. The players sitting in the top three positions on that particular list are Terrell Owens (17), Lance Alworth (17) and Jerry Rice (30). With a couple more games like this one, Johnson could stake a claim for the second spot on that table.
Another highlight of the match was Johnson catching a 39-yard rocket, which quickly made way for a touchdown pass to Golden Tate. The veteran wasn’t the only one catching long passes from Stafford through the match; Lance Moore also caught a couple of big throws, including a good 26-yard pass that set Johnson up for his touchdown and an excellent 42-yarder which led to a field goal. In total, Stafford managed to land 8 separate 20+ yard passes and the signal caller was particularly happy with how the game went. He said that the team had been putting a lot of emphasis on that side of their game in training. That work clearly paid-off, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lions trying to go deep more often in the weeks to come.
The season hasn’t been kind to the team so far, with a string of defeats and poor offensive performances. Stafford had recently criticized for failing to find those long passes. In fact, the quarterback was benched for the first time in his professional career in the Lions’ previous game against the Cardinals. Clearly, Stafford wanted to bounce back and did so with style. He finished the game with 27 successful passes from 42 attempts, for 405 yards in total. He got four touchdowns and one pick, earning him a final QB rating of 117.7, the best rating he’s had since Week 14 of last season. It seems that a trip to the bench was all the motivation he needed to start playing better and fans will hope to see more links developing between him and Johnson as the season progresses.