The Lions may have found themselves in a familiar situation with a losing record once again, but there has been one bright spot in the season, Calvin Johnson. In week 16 Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice‘s receiving record of 1,848 yards and now sits at 1,892 yards with one game remaining. That leaves Johnson needing just 108 yards in the final game of the season to be the first receiver in NFL history to reach 2,000 yards.
That would put Calvin Johnson in a league of his own and should put the questions to rest about who the best receiver in the game is. It should also put Calvin Johnson in the conversation for MVP, but the fact that the Lions sit at 4-10 will no doubt keep him from winning the award.
There are also those who believe Johnson’s record is tarnished because his yards have come when the Lions were down and had no chance of winning. ESPN’s Jon Gruden is one of those skeptics who believes that his record isn’t as impressive as when Jerry Rice first set it in 1995.
“They don’t keep a record of meaningless yards, and these are meaningless yards.. I hate to say it, but they are.” -Jon Gruden
While Gruden has a point, I disagree with the idea that the record is tarnished. For example, the Lions may have only won four games, but they have been within one score in each game they have played and lost, with the exception of three games. Then take into consideration that Johnson has been part of a receiving corps that is without Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, Brandon Pettigrew, and Nate Burleson and it becomes obvious that defenses should be able to focus solely on Johnson and contain him, yet containing Johnson has been unsuccessful all season.
Obviously the players listed above haven’t missed the entire season, but they have collectively missed the last two games where Johnson has tallied 346 receiving yards for an average of 173.0 yards a game. Since Nate Burleson broke his leg in week 6, Johnson has gained 1,300 yards and averaged 144.4 yards a game. Since Titus Young played his final game of the season against the Packers in week 10, Johnson has gained 775 yards with an average of 155.0 yards a game. Since Broyles went down with a season ending ACL injury against the Colts early in the first quarter in week 12, Johnson has gained 635 yards for 158.75 yards.
As you can tell, Johnson only got better as his complimentary threats fell for one reason or another. As the Lions offense became more one dimensional and opposing defenses focused more on containing Johnson, he became more dominant. Johnson may have had some “meaningless yards”, but his record is anything but tarnished.