ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions have gotten quite a return on the $132 million, eight-year investment they made in Calvin Johnson nine months ago.
“He’s not trying to live up to a contract,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said Sunday. “Personal records are great, and we certainly celebrate the season Calvin that has had, but it hasn’t translated to enough wins.
“We need more help around him.”
That’s a fact.
The Lions (4-11) have lost seven straight, the league’s longest active skid, after reaching .500 at the midway mark of a disappointing season.
During the losing streak, Johnson has been perhaps Detroit’s only bright spot.
He broke Jerry Rice’s single-season yards receiving record of 1,848 in Saturday night’s 31-18 loss to Atlanta.
“It’s an accomplishment that took a lot of work,” Johnson said. “You can’t take that thing away.”
Schwartz said Johnson hasn’t racked up yards in blowouts because Detroit hasn’t had many of them in a season filled with closely contested losses. He does acknowledge that the team’s record doesn’t let Johnson’s accomplishment ring as true as anyone would like.
“It’s hollow in the fact that we only have four wins,” he said. “You’d like for that production to translate to wins and you’d like to be able to celebrate that production with wins.”
In the win, the Falcons tried to take Johnson away as an option for Matthew Stafford in the passing game and couldn’t do it.
With 11 receptions for 225 yards against Atlanta, he also became the only player in NFL history with 100 yards receiving in eight straight games and with 10-plus receptions in four games in a row. He had seven receptions of 20-plus yards for the second time in his career, a feat no other player in the league has done since at least 1991, according to STATS LLC.
Johnson, who has tied another league single-season mark with 100 yards receiving in 11 games, can add to his record total of 1,892 yards receiving in Detroit’s finale Dec. 30 at home against Chicago and could reach the 2,000-yard mark.
Johnson’s 10th catch Sunday night was for a 26-yard gain with 2:57 left in the game. After breaking the record with that catch, he jogged over to the sideline to give the football to his father, Calvin Johnson Sr., and told him not to let it go.
Not even if someone from the Pro Football Hall of Fame wants it?
“Oh no,” he said. “That’s my ball.”
Stafford has done a good job of getting the ball to Johnson despite every team trying to stunt their connections and not having to worry about other playmakers because of Detroit’s injury-depleted receiving corps.
Stafford threw for 443 yards against the Falcons, setting an NFL record for the most yards passing in a game without a touchdown. With 4,695 yards passing and a game to go against the Bears, he and New Orleans’ Drew Brees could become the first two NFL players to throw for 5,000-plus yards in consecutive seasons.
“I’d love to be able to be able to do it again,” Stafford said. “But I’d love for it to come with a win.”
Stafford, who thrown the ball 685 times this season, is seven attempts away from breaking the NFL single-season record for attempts set by Drew Bledsoe with New England in 1994.
Johnson and Stafford have not been able to overcome the team’s minus-12 turnover ratio this season that ranks among the NFL’s worst in perhaps the statistical category that is tied most to winning and losing.
Against Atlanta, the Lions turned the ball over three times and their defence didn’t recover a fumble or make an interception.
“We lose by 13 and 17 points come off turnovers,” Schwartz said. “We need to do a better job of taking care of the football. And also on defence, we need to come up with some.”
Detroit’s comeback hopes were definitely dashed after getting a safety with 1:21 left to pull within 13 points only to have Stefan Logan take a knee at his 4 on a free kick.
“That’s probably the first time I’ve seen somebody concede a punt in the field of play,” Schwartz said. “It was a poor decision. Part of a returner’s job is to know where he is on the field. Saying, ’I didn’t know where I was. I thought I was in the end zone,’ is not a valid excuse.
“When that error was made,” Schwartz added, “it made it very, very difficult for the team to come back.”