Detroit — There’s only one Calvin Johnson.
Let’s get that out of the way now, before anybody else makes the same mistake Dez Bryant either did or didn’t make, depending on the day and the context.
Johnson, the Lions’ All-Pro receiver, is simply without peer, even in a league that’s chock full of elite talent like Bryant, the Dallas Cowboys’ own supremely gifted wideout.
And if you didn’t believe that before Sunday’s record-shattering, jaw-dropping performance at Ford Field, well, don’t take my word for it. Just listen to what the players on the field had to say as Johnson racked up a whopping 329 receiving yards in the Lions’ 31-30 comeback win.
It was the second-highest receiving total in NFL history, behind only Flipper Anderson’s 336-yard effort for the Los Angeles Rams in an overtime game in 1989. And yet it was breathtakingly … routine?
“It shouldn’t surprise me, but it just amazes me every time,” said Dominic Raiola, the Lions’ veteran center who has witnessed this for more than half of his 13-year NFL career. “I mean, you should hear it out there. We’re in the pocket and it’s, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, my God!’ It’s crazy.”
In a word, yes. Crazy. At least a half-dozen teammates offered the same description after Sunday’s sublime show, including Johnson himself.
From there, though, each took a different route as they tried to explain what they’d just seen. And what we all keep seeing, week after week, catch after improbable catch.
“Best receiver in the history of football,” running back Reggie Bush said, without the slightest hesitation.
“The greatest,” guard Rob Sims agreed.
“That’s some Madden stuff right there,” rookie Larry Warford laughed.
And, as head coach Jim Schwartz deadpanned after the game, “Just wait until he’s 100 percent.”
Indeed, Johnson’s monster game Sunday came just a couple of weeks after he was dressed as a decoy against Cleveland, hobbling around as third-down and red-zone specialist on a sprained knee. Three weeks ago, he missed his first game in three years with that knee injury.
And yet there he was Sunday, targeted 16 times, hauling in 14 of them, and finishing with more total yards than the entire Dallas offense, along with 10 other NFL teams.
“Oh, man, how many did he have?” Durham asked in the postgame locker room.
When he heard the answer, Durham just shook his head in disbelief. Heck, 16 NFL teams — half the league — have yet to record a 329-yard passing game this season. And for Johnson, who tied Hall of Famer Lance Alworth’s NFL record with his fifth career 200-yard receiving game, this was the seventh time in his seven-year career he’s had a game with seven or more catches of 20-plus yards. No other player has one such game in that span, according to ESPN.
“It’s just … Calvin,” Durham said. “That’s him. He flips a switch and turns into Megatron and you see what happens.”
Everybody sees it, of course. And truth is, plays like the one Durham made, catching a perfect rail shot from Stafford for a 40-yard gain in the final minute to set up the winning score, don’t happen if not for all the attention Johnson gets.
“I knew they were all gonna be kicking to C.J.’s side,” Stafford said of the Cowboys’ coverage on Durham’s big catch. “Pre-snap, the safety on C.J.’s side is almost on the friggin’ sideline. There’s no chance to get him the ball.”
Well, there’s always a chance, as Johnson, who did commit a fumble Sunday, proved on first play of the previous fourth-quarter scoring drive, going up over two defenders to snare a 54-yarder from Stafford.
“A freak-show catch,” Stafford called it.
Johnson’s explanation was freakishly understated, as you’d expect: “Shoot, I’m gonna to get hit, so I might as well make the catch.”
A shrug and a laugh, that’s about all you’re going to get with him. Especially when it comes to trash talk.
Bryant’s comments earlier in the week made for good pregame fodder. Maybe even bulletin-board material, as Bryant, when asked to compare himself to Johnson, told a Dallas radio station, “I believe I can do whatever he can do.”
Johnson, for his part, said he didn’t even know what an apologetic Bryant was texting him about earlier in the week, “because I don’t really pay attention to the media that much.” And he insists he didn’t give it a second thought Sunday.
“I’m just going out there doing my job,” he said.
Which is exactly what his teammates find most remarkable about him, frankly.
“The best thing about that dude is how humble he is and how much of a team player he is,” Stafford said. “I can’t express it enough to you guys. I say it, but you guys don’t really know it because you’re not in the locker room with him. But he’s a heck of a teammate and everybody respects the heck out of him.”
Bryant included, just for the record. He’d already chided reporters for misrepresenting his comments this week. And after Sunday’s game, which included some diva-like Dez drama on the Cowboys’ sideline, Bryant admitted, “We never had an answer for him.”
The Lions didn’t have enough for Bryant, either. The Lions had him doubled for most of the game and yet twice he beat them for scores – once in zone coverage for a 50-yarder as Louis Delmas missed a tackle on the sideline, and once in double-man as Bryant made circus catch over Darius Slay in the corner of the end zone.
Still, it’s clear some of Johnson’s teammates took issue with Bryant’s comments, including Nate Burleson, who told him so himself.
“I said, ‘Dez, you’re good. You’re one of the best in the league. Had a hell of a game today. But you’re not Calvin Johnson,’” Burleson said. “Nobody’s Calvin Johnson. That’s not a shot towards Dez. That’s just me being honest with him. You can’t compare Calvin to mere mortals.”
Nope, you can’t. Right now, he’s in a league of his own.