Johnson stars, Lions win in receiver's possible Ford Field farewell
Detroit — With periodic videos of players showing gratitude to the fans throughout the game, the Lions thanked their supporters the best way they knew how Sunday — with a victory.
The Lions beat the 49ers, 32-17, Sunday in the home finale at Ford Field in a game in which the offense continued to thrive with contributions from several players, including star receiver Calvin Johnson.
Johnson finished with six receptions for 77 yards and one touchdown after having just one catch in each of the past two games. His performance would've been even better had he not dropped a deep pass in the second quarter or if he'd held on for a catch that was overturned after a 49ers challenge.
"You want to leave a good taste in your fans' mouths so that they look forward to you coming back next year," Johnson said. "We were able to do that here, and hopefully end the season on a good note next week."
And now, the speculation will surely begin in haste as Johnson's exorbitant contract could determine whether or not he's back in Detroit next season. If for some reason the next general manager moves on from Johnson, this would've been his last home game at Ford Field, but he said he wasn't thinking about that possibility.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford played well for the Lions (6-9), too, and went 29 of 37 for 301 yards with two touchdowns. Running back Theo Riddick added 83 yards from scrimmage, making several defenders miss as a receiver.
The Lions also dominated time of possession, 36:30 to 23:30, in a game in which the offense consistently sustained drives, which earned offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter praise from his players after the game.
"The way we're moving the ball up and down the field, we just keep getting better," Johnson said.
Kicker Matt Prater made all four of his field goals, and the Lions converted a fake punt with safety Isa Abdul-Quddus running for a first down that helped them score their first touchdown in the second quarter, a 29-yard catch by TJ Jones that was the first score of his career.
The 49ers (4-11) started strong, but the Lions held them scoreless in the second half. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert finished 22 of 33 for 225 yards with two touchdowns and a lost fumble.
The Lions defense had a pitiful start to the game, allowing touchdown drives of 80-plus yards on two of San Francisco's first three possessions. The 49ers averaged just 14.4 points per game before Sunday, but they nearly matched that total in the game's first 19 minutes.
A key to the 49ers' early success was efficient running as they gained 122 yards on the ground in the first half, including 74 from DuJuan Harris. After the ugly start, the Lions defense started to take advantage of its matchup against the NFL's worst offense, and the 49ers finished the second half with minus-1 rushing yards.
San Francisco also converted only 1-for-9 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth downs.
"We just had to go back to the basics," Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah said. "Just not get upset and stay focused. It's the last home game; we didn't want to give it away."
Trailing 14-10 in the second quarter, Lions linebacker Josh Bynes and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata sacked Gabbert, and with Bynes forcing a fumble, fellow linebacker Tahir Whitehead recovered for the Lions at the San Francisco 1.
On the next play, running back Joique Bell scored a 1-yard touchdown that gave the Lions a 17-14 lead with 8:54 left in the second quarter.
The 49ers added a field goal, a 40-yarder by Phil Dawson, with 35 seconds left in the quarter to tie the game, but from that point on, it was all Lions.
The Lions quickly marched downfield to add another field goal before the end of the half, a 38-yarder by Prater as the first half ended.
Then, on the opening drive of the third quarter, Prater added a 37-yarder to put the Lions up 23-17.
The 49ers gained just one first down — without penalty — in the third quarter, and the Lions spent more than a third of the fourth-quarter clock on their 13-play drive to open the final frame.
The long drive included a successful challenge by Lions coach Jim Caldwell that gave the team a first down, and after a defensive pass interference in the end zone, Stafford and Johnson connected for a 1-yard score.
"We're trying to get him the ball as much as we possibly can, and he's doing a great job of getting open," Stafford said of Johnson.
After the 2-point attempt failed, the Lions led 29-17 with 9:04 remaining. Prater added his fourth field goal, a 34-yarder, with 3:43 remaining to make it 32-17.
The win doesn't do much for the Lions as they've already been eliminated from the postseason, but they're now 5-2 in the second half of the season after a 1-7 start.
"They have great pride in what they do," Caldwell said. "They certainly want to perform well, and I think they've been getting better every week, so that's key."