Calvin Johnson originally was credited with a touchdown catch against the Bears in the season opener but the call was overturned. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
Allen Park There's no sense looking back, that's the Lions' mantra. I get it, too. If they look back, all they see is incomprehensible wreckage.
But as a 2-9 season sputters toward its conclusion, nothing wrong with looking back and forward at the same time. The Lions host the Bears on Sunday, and if they're hunting for reasons to stay motivated, they don't have to look very far.
The Bears are 8-3 according to the standings, 7-4 according to logic. They beat the Lions, 19-14, in the opener after officials ruled Calvin Johnson did not "complete the process" of a potential winning 25-yard touchdown catch with 24 seconds left.
Perhaps you've seen the play? It became the most criticized mangling of a vague rule in NFL history. Johnson caught the pass from Shaun Hill, took another step or two, fell to the ground, waved to his family, updated his Twitter account and then left the ball on the turf.
And for the Lions, little has gone right since. They have a record 26-game road losing streak and 18-game division losing streak because of that loss. Truth is, they might be no better than 3-8 without the loss, but if they need inspiration late in another meaningless season, remember how it felt when everything was still very meaningful, back in the opener.
"I think it made Calvin a little bit hungrier," receiver Nate Burleson said. "You can see now when he goes up and gets that ball, he makes sure to show the ref the pigskin. It didn't affect him negatively. More than anything, it made him more aggressive on every ball thrown to him."
Burleson has a good point, which goes back to my original point. You're pushed by the past, and it forms your future.
Pro Bowl-caliber season
Johnson is having an excellent season and could make the Pro Bowl for the first time, confirming his star stature. He leads the NFC with 11 (uh, not quite 12) touchdown catches. His 59 receptions rank seventh in the conference and his 806 receiving yards are fourth, but he says the controversy didn't necessarily inspire him.
"The only way that play affected me was, it took a touchdown off my stats," Johnson said, shrugging and smiling. "It's been mentioned this week. But I ain't worrying about it."
He said opposing players and referees mention it every week, and everyone agrees he got robbed. He did, right?
"Yeah, yeah," Johnson said. "No doubt. No doubt."
So, what pushes a 2-9 team? For the Lions, jobs are on the line. Jim Schwartz isn't feeling the heat yet, but if he finishes 2-14 again, he will. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton might be getting his only shot.
For Johnson, professional recognition is something he desires, even if his laidback demeanor doesn't show it. He's certainly Pro Bowl-worthy, although it isn't a given. The passing game likely will be impacted now as Hill joins the injured Matthew Stafford on the sideline.
Johnson wouldn't mind being appreciated for more than the non-catch, which dramatically altered a lot. Back then, Bears coach Lovie Smith was under severe scrutiny, as was quarterback Jay Cutler. The Bears regrouped and have won four straight.
Still plenty of incentive
The Lions lost Stafford to a shoulder injury in the opener, so their fate already was twisted. And it's not exactly fair to say they earned the victory anyhow. The Bears did outgain them, 463-168.
The Lions will have to scrap as hard as ever now, especially after the ugly 45-24 loss to New England. In the aftermath, some players questioned the heart of unnamed teammates, but a follow-up meeting appeared to resolve the issue.
The Lions haven't shown many signs of packing it in, and I wouldn't expect it this game. In fact, Burleson made a relatively harmless guarantee of a victory, and doesn't mind if it shows up on Bears bulletin boards.
"I don't really use that as motivation, that we got robbed," Burleson said. "Our motivation is to get a victory against a team we think we can beat. I said we're gonna win the game. Take it as a guarantee, take it as a guy who's confident in his team. I'm not going to retract it, that's for sure."
The Lions don't lead the league in much, but they are No. 1 in "couldas" and top five in "shouldas." Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham uttered a great synopsis Thursday when he said, "I'm gonna teach 'em to be resilient if I have to kill every one of them."
I love that line. What doesn't kill you makes you madder, or something like that.
The Lions are still outmanned, obviously. With a third-string quarterback handing off to a third-string running back, there's not a lot that can be proven now. But for Johnson and others, there's still plenty worth grabbing, and a process worth completing.
Bears at Lions
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Bears 8-3,Lions 2-9
Series: Bears lead 92-64-5 (Bears 19-14 on Sept. 12)
Line: Bears by 41/2