Every Monday during the summer, positive or negative, we’re counting down the top 10 turning points from the season before.
In the NFL, it’s difficult to win without superstar talent at full strength, even at one position. That was a lesson that the Detroit Lions learned a few times in 2013, first with an injury to Reggie Bush in Arizona.
Soon after that, though, another painful lesson would be coming. Calvin Johnson, a receiver who’s proven durable even in the face of many injuries that would be crippling to other similar players (hello playing with broken fingers and setting the single season receiving record), fell victim to a knee injury, costing him a game.
Usually, Johnson has an innate ability to play through pain, but on this week, he missed practice a few times casting game time doubt on his status for an important game against the Green Bay Packers. Closer to game time, it was revealed he wouldn’t play.
Detroit, of course, in addition to fighting the Packers, were playing their own ghosts. Entering this contest, the team had lost 21 straight times at Lambeau Field. With the knowledge that Johnson wouldn’t be in the fold, that streak looked destined to hit 22, even if the Lions were 3-1 and in early command of the NFC North.
Despite Johnson’s absence, the Lions hung around thanks to a Packers’ offense that was misfiring as well. Green Bay managed only two field goals in the first half, but without Johnson, the focal point, that was good enough for a 6-3 halftime lead. No Detroit player was rising to the challenge offensively either, be it Reggie Bush or Brandon Pettigrew, which kept the Packers in the game.
Then, in the third quarter, the other shoe dropped as it so often does at Lambeau. James Jones got loose behind the secondary and scored the only meaningful touchdown of the game on a blown assignment. By the time Kris Durham got Detroit on the board, the game was already basically decided. All told, the Lions put up a terrible 286 yards of offense and looked confused.
Detroit’s offseason changes, predicated around signing Golden Tate and drafting phenom pass catcher Eric Ebron, were most certainly centered around days like this. Without Johnson, the Lions looked completely lost, just as they had in the past few years. As durable as Johnson is, injuries are a reality, so the team needed to be covered with other elite pass catchers in the fold.
On this day, they weren’t, which was a significant reason they lost. While the Lambeau streak hit an unhappy 22 in 2013, the way it happened may have directly played a role in the reshaping of Detroit’s offense for 2014.
Even though Johnson will likely play through pain again next season, if for some reason he cannot, this time, much more than a repeat performance of October, 6 2013 can be expected from the team.