Calvin Johnson – 2012
Statistics: 16 games played, 122 receptions, 1,964 yards*, 5 touchdowns, 96% of offensive snaps played
Retrospective: No surprise here. By 2012, Calvin Johnson had long since established himself as the most dominant wideout in the NFL, piling up jaw-dropping numbers and highlight-reel plays since his entry into the league in 2007. This record-breaking season though saw him reach new heights.
Overall, the Lions’ 2012 season was a disaster, as the team failed to build on their breakthrough 2011 campaign. Still, Johnson’s output was a bright spot all year, and he was at times unguardable despite the rest of the team failing to provide enough him with support to prevent the Lions from bottoming out with a 4-12 record.
Johnson’s 2012 got off to a good start before the season even began. He inked an eight-year contract extension with the Lions in March which made him the highest-paid receiver in the league at the time. On the field, he picked up right where he left off in 2011, recording 423 receiving yards through the Lions’ first quarter of the season.
Detroit finished the first half of the year winning three out of four games with Johnson averaging just under 96 yards per outing. Curiously, his scoring magic from the previous season had dried up somewhat; he reached the end zone only once in the first eight games – on a pass from backup quarterback Shaun Hill.
The Lions would go 0-8 of the way, yet Johnson opened the second half of the year on a tear. He recorded his third career 200-yard receiving game in a loss against the Minnesota Vikings, which included a late touchdown lunge in which he dragged multiple defenders across the goal line.
He would reach the end zone in each of the next three games as well while catching 31 balls for more than 350 yards. By the time Week 14 rolled around, he was just 421 yards away from eclipsing Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice’s NFL record of 1,848 receiving yards in a season.
He would break that record in Week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons on a fourth-quarter reception. In the loss, Johnson would also become the first player in league history to record 100 receiving yards in eight consecutive games, a feat matched by the Vikings’ Adam Thielen in 2018. Additionally, he became the first player ever with at least 10 catches in four straight contests, a mark that still stands today.
Johnson’s personal accomplishments in 2012 were remarkable, and looking back, they stand out even more considering how poorly the rest of the team performed around him. Teams knew that Johnson was going to be targeted incessantly, yet could do little to stop him all season.
Had Johnson been able to get in the end zone more frequently, the Lions’ record may have been slightly better; nine of their 12 losses were by eight or fewer points. Even so, despite its overall drudgery, 2012 reminds us how spectacular Johnson was, and his records from that year may never be surpassed.