By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – Even as the undisputed best in the NFL right now, even with a work ethic akin to an undrafted rookie trying to make the team, Calvin Johnson himself seemed a little shocked at the numbers he put up Sunday.
The Detroit Lions wide receiver hung 329 yards on the Dallas Cowboys. The total was the second-highest in the history of the league. In fact, as far as regulations games, his 329 yards were the most ever. Flipper Anderson’s record-setting game in 1989 extended into overtime. Before the extra period, he had 296 yards receiving.
“It’s crazy,” Johnson said with a smile. “Shoot. We got one-on-one coverage, and we were able to hit on a lot. I don’t know what our percentages were, but we were able to hit on a lot of deep passes, intermediate. We were all over the place.”
Johnson, nicknamed “Megatron” for his ability to make catches that look downright otherworldly, is also known for his grace and humility. His performance Sunday perfectly exemplified both his dominance of the game and his unassuming nature.
“He’s unbelievable,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “We all know that. We see it week in and week out. He’s a selfless player, a guy that works his tail off just to get ready to play. He’s battling a lot. He catchers the ball however many times he caught it today and gets hit all the time.
“He made some big-time catches and had some big-time moments,” Stafford continued. “The touchdown that we had before the last one, going and catching the ball in the first play, just the safety was out of position, and Calvin Johnson on a safety is as good of a matchu pas you’re going to get. The guy goes up and makes a freak-show catch. He does it all the time.”
Sunday, though, Johnson did it better than even he had ever done it before.
He caught 14 of the 16 passes thrown to him. On one, he went 87 yards, outrunning his pursuers almost all the way to the end zone, setting his team up for a touchdown. At the end of the game, too, it was Johnson’s catch that put the Lions at the 1-yard line, from where Stafford would sneak in the game-winning score.
Johnson reeled in a ridiculous number of catches for double-digit yardage. In the first quarter he hauled in the 87-yarder. In the second quarter he snagged passes for 21 and 29 yards. In the third quarter he had another 21-yard catch (which he fumbled) and one of 18 yards as well.
In the fourth quarter, Johnson got even better. He caught passes of 26 yards, 54 yards, 17 yards and 22 yards. He looked simply unstoppable.
“He is just a physical freak,” Cowboys safety Barry Church said. “Even with a jump ball, we had a safety and a cornerback there and he still came down with it. He is a freak of nature.”
Leading up to the game, there was much talk about Johnson and how he compared with Dallas receiver Dez Bryant. Asked by a radio station early in the week whether Johnson was the best, Bryant danced around the question, essentially refusing to acquiesce that Johnson was better than him.
Later, he said there was no comparison between the players, though it seemed ambiguous whether he was saying he simply did not compare himself with others or whether the two were on different levels.
“You guys can say whatever you want,” Bryant said Sunday. “When I told you it wasn’t a comparison and I told you to take a different route with it, that’s fine. This is a team sport. He had a hell of a game. He did some great stuff out there. Outstanding, seriously.”
Johnson, not surprisingly, did not seem to mind the situation at all. He was not even aware of it until Bryant sent him a text message to clarify his intentions.
“Like I told him when he texted me earlier, I didn’t know what he was talking about when he texted me because I don’t really pay attention to the media,” Johnson said. “I’m just going out there doing my job.”
No matter what Bryant intended, comparisons were made. Bryant finished the game with three receptions for 72 yards and two touchdowns – hardly a shoddy performance, but hardly near the level of Johnson.
“He did walk the walk,” Detroit wide receiver Nate Burleson said. “I said, ‘Dez, you’re one of the best in the game, but you’re not Calvin Johnson. Nobody’s Calvin Johnson.’ And that’s not a shot toward Dez. That’s just me being honest with him.”
Lions running back Reggie Bush agreed.
“He’s the greatest football player, greatest receiver, that I’ve ever played with, that I’ve ever seen before,” Bush said. “I think that pretty much sums it up.”
“Today was that chance to show who’s better,” Bush added, laughing a little. “And Calvin came out on top.”