When I think of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, I think of my trip to Lions training camp in the summer of 2011, and the beautiful music they were making together. As I wrote in the
On Monday night in Chicago, the strange season of this prolific passing combination continued. Quarterbacks are trained to not force the ball to receivers, but rather to take what's open. But on that 2011 morning in camp, Stafford forced the ball into Johnson, and it kept working. "Wouldn't you?'' were his words. Johnson's the kind of receiver you break rules for. But against the Bears, Detroit was held scoreless for the first 59 minutes of a 13-7 loss -- and Johnson had exactly one catch for three yards in the first 51 minutes of the game.
Johnson dropped a long ball in the first quarter, and late in the third quarter, Stafford overshot an open Johnson far down the right side when the receiver was open. Fifty-four minutes into the game, Johnson had one catch for six yards; he finished three for 34. Notable, again, was the lack of production. Last year, Johnson averaged one touchdown reception per game. This year, he has one touchdown reception in six games. His yards-per-catch is down two yards from last year.
My advice, particularly now that bookend receiver Nate Burleson has been lost for the season with a broken leg suffered Monday night: Stafford has to remember that day in camp in 2011.
The Bears were terrific Monday night. Playing for the first time in 15 days, their rush got to Stafford consistently and made a veteran quarterback look like a kid fighting for a roster spot. We'll see today -- upon further medical review of quarterback Jay Cutler, smashed to the turf on a scary hit by Ndamukong Suh in the first half -- if Cutler will take a rib injury into the last 10 games of Chicago's season. But to me, the story Monday night was the fact that Stafford-to-Johnson, the most electric passing combination of 2011, continues to be on a milk carton in 2012.
As much as it pains me to write, because of my high regard for him as a person and coach and administrator, Mike Holmgren walks out of the Cleveland Browns facility today, midway through the third year of what he thought was going to be a five-year contract to repair the battered franchise, with a 10-29 record as club president. Joe Banner takes the job now. Holmgren will do an exit news conference today in Cleveland, and if I were him, I'd make one point: There is no way you can turn around a franchise like the Browns in a little more than two seasons. None.
After the enlightening two-part story on the post-career decline and suicide of Junior Seau by Jill Lieber-Steeg in the
"It's designed for players one to three years removed from the league,'' said James Thrash, the former wide receiver who now works in the league's player engagement department (a new-age transitioning-to-the-real-world sector of the league office). "We all have skills that are transferable to jobs in life after football, but because of the time we had to spend on the game for all those years, we don't have much work experience.''
The four-day seminar has classes in personal finance, new careers, continuing education and preparing former players for may be a cold post-football slap in the face to some. "Our message to our former players is we'll walk shoulder-to-shoulder with you to help you achieve your new goals in life,'' said Thrash. "There's such a need for it."
Now for your email:
COULDN'T AGREE MORE.
It's only fair, and you're right. I hated the coin flip taking on such a major role after two teams played to a tie after 60 minutes.
YOU MIGHT BE RIGHT. I AM JUST GOING BY WHAT I SEE.
I don't know. No one does. But for a quarterback to come out of college football and be a more accurate passer through seven weeks than Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, well, that gets my attention.
Thanks for a smart email, Rob. I think it's strong to call what Ben Roethlisberger said about Haley running a "dink-and-dunk'' offense a rip job on Haley. But I would agree -- I don't think it serves any good purpose to criticize a coach publicly, even though it's fun for guys in our business. I don't think this will be the last time either.
WHO'S AT THE TOP OF THE AFC?
Well, I think you probably have the two favorites right now, including the overwhelming one. Seems like a logical bet to me from your side, but I'd still take Denver. Just stubborn.
WHAT A SMART IDEA.
I love this idea. Hey James Thrash: Take this to Troy Vincent -- and to Roger Goodell.