Allen Park — Calvin Johnson had 1,964 receiving yards in 2012, the NFL’s season record. A year earlier, he had 1,681 yards, good for eighth in season history.
But injuries the last two years have led to a dropoff.
In 2013, he had 1,492 yards, playing through a knee injury that held him out of two games and required surgery during the offseason. And this year, Johnson has 578 yards, missing three games and being limited in two others with a high-ankle sprain.
But ask Johnson, and he’ll say he doesn’t believe he’s a different player than he was two years ago.
“Same guy,” Johnson said Tuesday.
And, he also isn’t concerned about his long-term health.
“I don’t worry about it,” said Johnson, 29. “It’s a game that is a 100 percent injury sport, so you’re going to have some nicks and bruises here and there. But you can’t sit back and really worry about those things. You still have to be able to go out there, try to put those things in the back of your mind and play.”
Asked if Johnson is getting old before his eyes, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said, “I wouldn’t say so.”
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford believes defenses have done a better job “keying in” on Johnson, and the Patriots used a different scheme last week than the Lions expected, with Brandon Browner on Johnson with safety help and Darrelle Revis on Golden Tate.
“He’s the best receiver in the league, and they know that,” Stafford said. “It’s on me to just throw him better balls and make sure we’re on the same page.”
Johnson, however, has shown some flashes a few times this season.
In Week 1, he had seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. In Week 10, his first game back after missing three straight, he had seven catches for 113 yards and a touchdown.
He deflected a question about his chemistry with Stafford, but the numbers indicate they aren’t on the same page. Johnson has caught 51.4 percent of his targets this season, his lowest since Stafford’s rookie season in 2009 when Daunte Culpepper also played quarterback.
Stafford said it’s tough to tell if Johnson is still affected by his ankle injury.
“It was a long time that he was out,” Stafford said. “Even when he was in early on in the season, there were a couple games he played where he wasn’t himself. It’s always a long process coming back.”
If Johnson is indeed the same guy, he has a great opportunity to prove it Thursday against a Bears defense allowing 260.5 passing yards, 28th in the NFL. Chicago also is without cornerback Charles Tillman (injured reserve), and rookie Kyle Fuller (knee) is a game-time decision.
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there from watching the film,” Johnson said. “We see that we can make plays out there, and we’re going to have to do that this week in order to win.”