x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The motor to the Detroit Lions' revival

The way it is going at this early stage of the NFL season, it will be surprising when Detroit's quarterback Matthew Stafford does not manage to find Calvin Johnson for a pair of touchdown throws.

Detroit Lions centre Dominic Raiola, left, and quarterback Matthew Stafford, right, help Calvin Johnson off the field after the wide receiver's touchdown catch late in the second half that helped Detroit overcome Dallas.
Detroit Lions centre Dominic Raiola, left, and quarterback Matthew Stafford, right, help Calvin Johnson off the field after the wide receiver's touchdown catch late in the second half that helped Detroit overcome Dallas.

It has to happen, right? There will be a Detroit Lions game this season in which quarterback Matt Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson do not hook up for two touchdown passes.

When that day comes, it might be three touchdowns.

Stafford-to-Johnson for six, twice: It has become a weekly occurrence for unbeaten Detroit.

No player had ever opened the year with a pair of scoring catches in three games.

Johnson strives for five in succession Monday against the Chicago Bears.

The combination has become nigh unstoppable on plays near the opponent's end zone.

Stafford can barely contain himself when he sees a normal-sized cornerback lined up against the super-sized Johnson (6ft 5ins, 235 pounds).

"I will throw it to him every time," Stafford said.

"Four times in a row, even."

Lions coaches and players could not be more excited than a movie buff at a film festival when they sit down for their video sessions and see Johnson at work.

His acrobatic catches turn the room silent, with viewers rendered speechless.

Johnson, for his part, is soft-spoken, a trait that sets him apart at the receiver position - known for its high ratio of divas.

A typical Johnson quote: "I just want people to remember me as a guy that did things right."

Johnson was characteristically quiet when the television analyst, Cris Carter, a former receiver of note himself, recently omitted him from a list of premier players at the position. Stafford spoke up on his behalf.

"Does anyone think 8 tds in 4 weeks will change chris carters mind about an 'elite' receiver?" tweeted Stafford, a better passer than writer.

Johnson has clicked with Stafford after the two quickly set aside the fact their previous teams, in college, are mortal enemies. Johnson was drafted No 2 overall in 2007 out of Georgia Tech, and Stafford was No 1 two years later from rival University of Georgia.

The two schools are separated by 75 miles and a wall of hostility.

The only knock on Stafford has been his durability, as he has missed the better part of two seasons due to injuries.

But all quarterbacks are vulnerable - even Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, both once considered indestructible - and Stafford was a work-in-progress figuring out when to release the ball before getting pounded.

With Johnson able to run down any pass in his vicinity, Stafford discovered he can unload quickly and avoid the brutal hit.

"We do have ways to communicate, real subtle things," Johnson said.

The past two Sundays, they have collaborated on Detroit comebacks from 20 and 24 points behind, both in the third quarter, an NFL record for deficits overcome on consecutive weeks.

It cannot happen again, right?

 

sports@thenational.ae