JACKSONVILLE – Everything the football world thought it knew about
The stats are there – maybe not at the lofty level that has earned Johnson the nickname “Megatron” and made him the NFL’s elite wide receiver and an athlete who is approaching iconic status.
He caught seven passes for 129 yards, and was
Johnson also forced the Jaguars’ defense into a pass-interference penalty that helped the Lions move along to a touchdown that extended their lead to 21-0 at halftime.
All things considered, it was another good game by Johnson – not one of his greatest, but clearly another example of how he sets the standards for wide receivers.
What has become apparent now is that along with the size, speed, hands and explosive athletic ability to sets him apart are the heart and guts that is not possessed by every great athlete.
Calvin Johnson played a full game on an injured left knee that was so sore and stiff that when the Lions departed Detroit for Jacksonville Saturday afternoon, he wasn’t sure if he would play on Sunday.
It wasn’t for lack of desire or effort that he questioned his own status. The issue was whether he would have enough movement for his knee to function at a proper level to get him on the field.
Of course he started. Of course he played well.
And of course it hurt like hell all day – before the game, during the game and after.
“It didn’t feel good at all,” Johnson said after the game.
He talked about his warm-up routine before the game, the special workout he went through to loosen up the left knee joint. It was heavily wrapped in tape, from mid-thigh to above the left calf.
He said he took some pain medications. Before the game, he huddled with Stafford and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to set a plan for which routes he’d run to allow him to take pressure of the knee and be as effective as possible.
He also appealed to the man upstairs.
“I mean, thank God,” Johnson said. “We said a little prayer before, and after that we just left it in His hands and went out there and played.”
Until then, he wasn’t sure if he was going to play.
“I mean, it was on my mind if I was going to play when I came on this trip,” he said. “It was hurting pretty good.”
Going forward, there has to be a question of whether Johnson can continue to play on a bad knee. There has to be a breaking point for everyone. No matter how great an athlete is, and how much will he has to compete, there’s a point where the heart says “yes” but the body puts on the breaks and says “not today.”
Johnson has gotten occasional rest days this season for various ailments, but he did not practice all week.
Coach Jim Schwartz said after the game that Johnson had “a fair amount” of pain.
“He didn’t practice all week,” said Schwartz, who like all coaches values practice. “It wasn’t for rest.”
Johnson didn’t have to earn any locker room cred with his teammates. He has been the anti-diva at a position where most receivers crave attention. There isn’t a more respected player on the team than Johnson.
They’re heard in the whispers from commentators questioning why Johnson hasn’t been as dominating this year, with more dropped passes and fewer touchdowns than in previous years.
There is an old saying that there is a difference between pain and injury, and Johnson played with both Sunday. He had an injury that hurt. The comments his teammates made about him sounded like a testimonial at an offseason dinner – except this was mid-season, with eight games to play.
“Anything somebody was saying about him – you can just erase it,” said guard
Stafford talked about the talk they had before the game, to set up plays for Johnson.
“He was definitely not feeling 100 percent,” Stafford said. “You can tell that. He caught everything. It’s great to have him out there.
“I don’t know if you guys were out there in the warm-ups. You could tell he didn’t feel himself. Other guys got open because of him.”
Football is a tough game, played by tough men. They endure a lot just to survive a season. But the excel takes it to another level, and Johnson did that – in a game the Lions had to win to stay in striking range in the playoff race.
In the code of the locker room, he won some kind of award – the kind that never show up in stats lines but mean everything to a team.
“I can only imagine the pain he was going through,” Durant said. “He went out there and toughed it out.
“You’ve got to give it up to him. I told him how much I appreciated it.”