New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, left, talks with Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell after their NFL football game in Detroit, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya
September 09, 2014

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Detroit coach Jim Caldwell is enjoying having Calvin Johnson on his side.

Caldwell had coached against Johnson and the Lions a couple times before taking over Detroit this offseason. In Caldwell's first game in charge of the Lions, Johnson caught seven passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-14 victory over the New York Giants on Monday night.

''It's great to have him,'' Caldwell said. ''When he is catching those balls and making those plays for your team, it has a different feel to it. I think all of us felt that way. I do recall that one of the assistant coaches stepped over to me during the game and said, `Man, I'm glad he is on our side.'''

The Lions did have one significant setback in the opener. They had to put cornerback Bill Bentley on injured reserve with an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament.

When Caldwell was on the staff in Baltimore last year, he watched Johnson grab six passes for 98 yards. In 2008, Johnson caught nine passes for 110 yards against Caldwell and the Indianapolis Colts.

''I remember one time, we had about three guys around him on one play, and he goes up between all three of our guys, when everyone is jumping for the ball, and comes down with it,'' Caldwell said Tuesday. ''And, believe it or not, coaches do watch ESPN highlights from time to time and he has been on them for years.''

Johnson kicked off the 2014 season with a bang, hauling in a 67-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford early in the first quarter.

''It was a lot of fun,'' Caldwell said, a smile breaking out on his face. ''It was a lot more fun than being on the other side, trying to figure out how you want to defend him. I have been on that side all too often. One of the great things about him is that he will rise to the occasion. He is going to make plays for you, and he is hardly going to say a word. Maybe the humblest superstar I have ever been around in my life. I admire him.''

After acquiring receiver Golden Tate and drafting athletic tight end Eric Ebron in the offseason, the Lions expected big things out of their passing game.

And, if the first game is any indication, Detroit may have one of the most dangerous aerial attacks in the league.

Stafford completed 22 of 32 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns against the Giants. He connected with six different receivers.

''Matthew did a tremendous job, in terms of making good decisions. You saw him spread the ball around quite a bit,'' Caldwell said. ''He did a nice job of not forcing the ball. He did take some check-downs that ended up being pretty sizable plays for us. He got us into the right plays. He managed the game well when we wanted to eat the clock, and he sped up the tempo when we wanted to do that. He threw the ball accurately.''

Tate, in his Lions debut, was targeted six times and snagged all six passes, finishing with 93 yards through the air.

''He is pretty versatile,'' Caldwell said. ''We ran him on a reverse, quick screens and down the field. . He and Calvin form a pretty unique combination. As time goes on, you're not going to see either one of them singled up a whole lot in a ballgame. When that does indeed happen, it will open up other phases of our offense.''

After a resoundingly positive start to the season, the Lions and their high-powered passing attack must regroup on a short week and get ready for a stiff defensive test at Carolina (1-0) on Sunday.

''Their front four is a talented group,'' Caldwell said. ''And they have possibly one of the best middle linebackers in all of football (in Luke Kuechly). The guy is active. He is a great quarterback for their defense. He's crafty, he'll hit you, and he has great ball skills. Overall, it's a really good defense, and we'll have to get ourselves ready to go.''


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