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Calvin Johnson unwanted transformation continues for Detroit Lions

The wide receiver, known as Megatron, has slumped from being league's best to a decoy play, writes Mike Tierney

Calvin Johnson, right, has just one touchdown so far this season. Rich Schultz / Getty Images / AFP
Calvin Johnson, right, has just one touchdown so far this season. Rich Schultz / Getty Images / AFP

Few players have carried a nickname as fitting as Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. Like the action figure in Transformers, the Detroit wide receiver has been robot-like as a pass receiver.

The Lions awarded Megatron a mega-contract in March covering seven years for US$132 million (Dh484.8m), the most generous yet for a non-quarterback.

It has taken just seven games for Johnson to offer reminders that he is man not machine. He has scored one touchdown, down from 10 and eight at this stage the previous two seasons.

"It's tough," he said last Sunday after a three-catch, two-drop game. "You just have to play through it."

Johnson has not quite transformed into a slacker. Only a half-dozen receivers have more yards than his 638. His work ethic has not flagged. Johnson still takes great pains to get open, as reflected in this statistic: 75 passes thrown his way, sixth most in the league. But he also has dropped six, tied for third most in the league.

Regarding Johnson's rare end-zone celebrations, the Lions coach Jim Schwartz said: "We're not playing fantasy football trying to get players a certain number of stats or anything. We're just trying to win."

Factors valid and silly have been cited for his slide. He often confronts bracket coverage, meaning two defenders are assigned to him.

A variety of injuries have brought undue consequences. A balky knee kept him out of practice this past week, raising doubts about his fitness today at Jacksonville. Then there is the Madden Curse, an affliction some believe disproportionately strikes players on the cover of the football video game.

Some forced throws to him from Matthew Stafford are inevitable, but the quarterback recognises that Johnson drawing a crowd frees up other receivers. Titus Young, though not yet deserving of the Megatron II tag, logged 100 yards and two TDs last Sunday.

Johnson "has a tremendous impact on the game … whether or not he's making catches," Schwartz said.

Still, the catch king misses his leading role. "You can have an impact being a decoy," he said, "but I want to have an impact with the ball in my hand."

Perhaps his football fortunes will follow the arc of his cinematic namesake. Megatron was killed in the second Transformers film, then brought back to life.

 

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