For Lions’ Johnson, the last yard is the longest

Posted Dec. 26, 2012, at 7 p.m.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson with his record-setting reception in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, on Saturday, Dec. 22. Johnson's catch lifted him over Jerry Rice for the NFL's single-season receiving yardage record.
Julian H. Gonzalez | MCT
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson with his record-setting reception in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, on Saturday, Dec. 22. Johnson's catch lifted him over Jerry Rice for the NFL's single-season receiving yardage record.

DETROIT — When Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record Saturday, he just missed out on another somewhat dubious mark.

Johnson’s 225 yards tied Bernie Casey for the second most in NFL history without a touchdown, according to ESPN. Former Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Keenan McCardell set the record of 232 yards receiving without a score in 1996.

Johnson’s touchdown numbers have fallen dramatically this year, from an NFC-leading 16 last year to five through 15 games this season. He’s also been brought down at the 1-yard line five times, which has become somewhat of a running joke with teammates.

“We had a play in practice (last week) and Calvin was probably out at about the half-yard line,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “He toe-tapped the sideline and Mikel (Leshoure) said, ‘Hey I’ll take it from here.’”

Because Johnson demands so much attention on the goal line — usually two or more defenders — Leshoure (nine rushing TDs), quarterback Matthew Stafford (four) and others have emerged as red-zone producers. But that’s sometimes to the detriment of the team.

In last week’s 31-18 loss to the Falcons, the Lions ran 12 plays from inside the Atlanta 20 and threw just one pass to Johnson, a third-and-1 incompletion from the 2 late in the fourth quarter when the Falcons brought three extra rushers and left Johnson single covered.

“I think you saw it, our best opportunity on the 1 was a quarterback draw,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “One guy got a hand on Matt, but that was open. That was there when you’re doubling Calvin the way that is. When he gets down in the red zone, it’s very rare — and this goes from Game 1 all the way to now — that he doesn’t get doubled.”

Stafford was stopped for a 2-yard gain on his third-and-goal draw from the 4 Saturday, and the Lions, in need of a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie, settled for a field goal. The Falcons put the game away on their next possession.

Schwartz acknowledged in his weekly news conference Sunday that the Lions do need to take occasional chances with Johnson near the goal line.

“There is a fine line there,” he said. “But going into every game we scheme plays for him and want to try to get him the ball.”

 

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