Calvin Johnson has delivered more than his fair share of brilliant performance in losing efforts. Sunday, in the most improbable of fashions, the Lions made sure that his latest gem did not go for naught.
Matthew Stafford's fake spike/QB sneak with 12 seconds left handed the Lions a dramatic 31-30 victory over the Cowboys, who only moments before had the game in such control that Detroit's fans were streaming for the exits. Stafford's leaping touchdown capped an 80-yard drive that took only 50 seconds.
Johnson had one of the most important catches on that final Detroit possession, hauling in a perfect Stafford pass up the seam for 22 yards. That catch set up Detroit on the Dallas 1, from where Stafford plunged the ball into the end zone after frantically signaling for his team, out of timeouts, to clock the football.
The reception was Johnson's 14th of the game and upped his yardage total to a staggering 329 yards -- seven shy of the single-game record held by the Los Angeles Rams' Flipper Anderson. Johnson also scored once, a four-yard grab following a long 87-yard reception, and single-handedly outgained the Cowboys offense by 61 yards (329 to 268).
"Best receiver in the history of football," Lions teammate Reggie Bush said of Johnson after the game.
Up until that Stafford TD, though, it appeared as if Johnson's latest showcase would be merely a sidenote in a Lions loss. After mustering fewer than 140 yards of offense over the first three quarters, the Cowboys came up with 110 and two TDs on back-to-back Tony Romo passes in the fourth quarter -- one to Terrance Williams for 60 yards, another to a frustrated Dez Bryant for 50.
The touchdown catch by Bryant was his second of the game, both coming after he unleashed a tirade on Romo and several Cowboys coaches on the sideline. Bryant went off again later, following Stafford's game-winning TD run, to the point where veteran tight end Jason Witten confronted him on the sideline.
Bryant made headlines earlier in the week when he declared of Johnson: "I believe I can do whatever he can do." The Cowboys' receiver later said that his comments were misinterpreted, but the gauntlet was already thrown down for Megatron.
"We were doubling Bryant all game and he still scored two touchdowns," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said of Bryant.
The Cowboys, at least at first glance, played fairly routine defense on Johnson, often asking Brandon Carr to try to corral him. Carr did help force one of two Stafford interceptions, tipping a pass from Johnson's arms into those of linebacker Sean Lee. Aside from that, however, Johnson got the best of him and the Cowboys defense.
Making matters worse for Dallas on the deciding Detroit drive was that Kris Durham was allowed to slip rather unimpeded up the left sideline for a 40-yard catch. Durham also managed to get out of bounds, saving precious time for the Lions later -- time they would need when Johnson was brought down shy of the goal line on his catch before Stafford's score.
Romo often feels the heat when the Cowboys suffer tough losses, but it will be hard to pin this one on him. (His most steadfast critics might point to his 14-of-30 completion rate and that he threw for nearly 300 yards fewer than Stafford.) The Cowboys defense let this one slip away, with an untimely assist from tackle Tyron Smith.
Smith was flagged for holding on a third-down run by Joseph Randle, as the Cowboys attempted to finish off a win. Though Detroit declined that penalty, the miscue still stopped the clock for a Lions team without a timeout.
Instead of having fewer than 30 seconds to get down the field, the Lions had more than a minute. Stafford and Johnson, with a little help from Durham, took advantage of their opportunity.
It was a critical win for a Lions team often on the other side of the ledger. And the outcome ensured that Johnson's sensational outing was not wasted.
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