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Detroit — Part of the surprise in the Lions' 6-2 start is the comeback wins in the past two games.

What's made it more unlikely is that they've done it without receiver Calvin Johnson, who has missed the last three games because of a high-ankle sprain.

But Johnson could return to the lineup soon.

Johnson indicated that he's close to returning — and with the Lions on their bye week and not playing until the Nov. 9 matchup against the Dolphins, he could be healthy and ready to play.

"I definitely expect to play," Johnson said Tuesday night at the Courage House dinner at Ford Field. "I'm looking forward to the game and playing some old teammates (former Lion Louis Delmas), so that makes it all that much better."

The Lions' start has them in first place, a game ahead of the Packers in the NFC North. They have a three-game win streak — all with Johnson on the sidelines — but he's been excited to see his teammates excel without him.

Golden Tate has filled the void, ranking third in the NFL in receptions (55) and yards (800). Tate has back-to-back games with 150-plus receiving yards and a touchdown in each of the comeback victories, over the Saints and Falcons.

That's made sitting out the last few games easier for Johnson.

"It's huge to see the team go out there and win consistently; stacking up wins is the big thing in the NFL. To do that without my presence on the field is very encouraging," he said. "It makes me look forward more and more to getting back out there with the guys who are out there dominating on Sundays."

In the first five games, Johnson had 22 catches for 348 yards and two touchdowns, but played sparingly against the Jets. In the next game, against the Bills, he aggravated the injury, limping off after his only reception.

The offense has struggled much of the season, but getting Johnson back could be a shot in the arm.

"We all know he keeps safeties out of the box — that's just common sense," center Dominic Raiola said. "We still have to get our running backs to the second level — that's our job. I know Calvin doesn't do any of that. But, he does affect the defense and how they play him. Different teams play him differently."

Extra points

The Lions could be getting another big addition on defense, as second-round pick Kyle Van Noy appears closer to returning. He's been on the short-term injured reserve and is eligible to return for the Dolphins game.

Van Noy just started practicing with the linebackers last week and could begin to see some game action if his progress continues.

"We'll see — we have to get him back in the full swing of things," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's been practicing well, he's been coming along and he feels good."

... Caldwell didn't elaborate on why defensive tackle C.J. Mosley was sent home from London last weekend and suspended two weeks, but said the two weeks corresponded to last Saturday.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

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