BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football
In the pass-happy NFL of 2011, it’s a shame Megatron won’t be visiting Revis Island.
Calvin Johnson and Darrelle Revis have been the maestros of the league halfway through the schedule. The Lions wideout nicknamed Megatron has looked superhuman and is on a record receiving pace. The Jets All-Pro cornerback actually has been tested a few times, flunking quarterbacks and receivers in the process with his play.
Johnson and Revis represent the yin and yang of a wild post-lockout half-season in which one superstar’s neck surgery plunged his team so far down the standings it might go 0-for-’11. Four-time MVP Peyton Manning has proven with his absence just how valuable he truly is.
As for the guys actually playing, Ndamukong Suh, LaMarr Woodley, Cam Newton, Matt Forte and Aaron Rodgers deserve special nods for their performances. ButDetroit’s game-breaking pass catcher with the huge, great hands — hence Megatron — and New York’s game-saving defender spur the passions.
With Detroit going 6-2, Johnson has 11 TDs, joining Randy Moss as the only players since the 1970 merger with that many touchdown catches in his team’s first eight games.
“He’s an unbelievable receiver. That’s why his nickname is ‘Megatron,’ and he lives up to that nickname,” Revis says. “He’s a beast. I mean, he’s 6-foot-5 and it’s hard to jump with that guy when the ball is up in the air. He’s also fast, a sub-4.3 guy, and he gives you problems. He’ll give any team in the league problems, so you always have to come up with a great game plan against him. He can score two touchdowns, or three or even four, easily on you if you don’t game-plan him right.”
Even when teams do have the right approach, usually double teams and trying to get physical, Johnson has an answer. Just look at his sensational over-the-shoulder reception in overtime at Minnesota that led to the winning field goal.
Or look at the way defenses treat him — with as many people as they can find to cover Johnson.
Possibly the only person not overwhelmingly impressed is Johnson himself.
“It’s been productive,” he says. “We’re 6-2, so I’ve been able to help the team out. Hopefully, I’ll continue to be able to do that. This is definitely what you play for. Just to be in this position is a privilege.”
All part of a momentous and memorable half-season in which the Lions have joined the 49ers, Bills and Bengals as surprising success stories, with the Niners (7-1) owning the second-best record in the league.
“There are not many times in NFL history that it’s happened: 11 touchdowns before the half,” coach Jim Schwartz says. “Obviously he’s on those kind of paces, but just like our team, 6-2 doesn’t mean a lot with it if we don’t do something with that over the second half of the season. I’m sure Calvin won’t feel good about his first half of the season if he can’t continue to have that kind of season or even play better over the second half of the year.”
If there is a defensive scheme that could slow Megatron, it probably needs to include Revis. When the teams faced off in 2010, Johnson managed one catch for 13 yards.
Revis’ coverage skills are such that opponents rarely have thrown his way. Through eight games, though, several teams have flown over Revis Island, and been grounded by the cornerback.
“Revis is the best player in football,” Jets coach Rex Ryan says. “It doesn’t matter — midseason, postseason, whatever. There’s only one Darrelle Revis in this league, and we’re fortunate to have him. If we choose to lock him down on somebody, it’s probably going to be a long afternoon for that player.”
Halfway through the schedule, Revis has allowed a dozen catches, and his interceptions against Miami (returned 100 yards for a touchdown) and San Diego keyed victories.
This in a half-season when scoring (44.58 points per game) is on pace for a 46-year high; net yards passing (468.3 per game) are on pace for a single-season record; and interceptions are actually down slightly (254 through 130 games, on pace for 501; there were 511 in 2010, 525 the previous season).
While Revis often has been able to showcase his immense skills on national TV and in the playoffs, Johnson has had to operate somewhat in the shadow of other big-play receivers. During his 4½ seasons in Motor City, the Lions have been a jalopy even as their top wideout has been a Cadillac. Plus, Johnson is anything but a diva; you won’t find any T.O. or Ochocinco in this guy.
That lack of notoriety — he is the rare first-round draft pick made by Matt Millen who has actually worked out for Detroit —is changing a bit. The Megatron tag, which several former teammates claim responsibility for, including current Bears receiver Roy Williams and now-retired offensive lineman Damien Woody, certainly helps. So do the highlight reels filled with spectacular catches and lengthy runs after them.
Johnson’s one chance to grab the spotlight every year has been when Detroit hosts the Thanksgiving Day game. For once, the Lions figure to be viable when they take on the Packers in the early holiday game this year.
Johnson will need to be in full Megatron mode that day because Packers quarterback Rodgers has built on his phenomenal postseason last winter. The league’s leading passer, he believes Green Bay is playing better than ever this season — it is the only unbeaten team, after all — will shatter all sorts of records, too, should he remain on his torrid pace.
The offensive onslaught through nine weeks, spurred in part by the lockout that forced some defenses to scale back their schemes, makes the work of Revis even more impressive. It hasn’t been easy for defensive players to stand out, yet Revis has, whether he’s been covering Wes Welker, Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson or Dez Bryant.
If only he matched up with Megatron this season. Revis smiles at the thought, knowing that could only happen in the Super Bowl.
AP Sports Writers Dennis Waszak in New York, Noah Trister and Larry Lage in Detroit, contributed to this story.