DETROIT — Sorry, Jerry Rice, you have one fewer NFL record.
Detroit Lions receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson surpassed Rice for the most receiving yards in a season with a brilliant performance Saturday night in a 31-18 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field.
Johnson broke the record on a 26-yard reception with 2:57 remaining in the game to give him 1,871 yards on the season, 23 more than Rice, the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Famer, had 17 years ago.
Every time he went to the sideline, someone had been updating him on how many yards he needed. It was down to four yards when he caught the record-breaker.
“I was like, ‘See the ball, see the ball,’ ” Johnson said.
He saw it, he caught it and now he’s in the record books.
Johnson, a freakish 6-foot-5, 236-pound athlete, made one more catch and now has 1,892 yards through 15 games.
“With the loss, it’s tough,” Johnson said of the bittersweet moment. “At the same time, it’s an accomplishment that took a lot of work. So you can’t take that thing away.
“I didn’t expect coming into the year to see this happen. But now that it’s a part of history, I’m sure it will sink in at some point.”
As the home crowd roared for their one silver lining in an otherwise embarrassing season for the 4-11 Lions, Johnson took the record-setting football and presented it to his father, Calvin Sr., on the sideline.
“I was in my zone, I don’t think I even said anything to my dad when I gave him the ball,” Johnson said. ”I just gave him a hug.”
His dad was still holding onto the ball tightly after the game. Calvin Jr. told him not to let go.
Asked if the ball would be headed to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, Johnson said, “Oh no, that’s my ball.”
His father couldn’t have been prouder.
“How can you say your kid is going to break Jerry Rice’s record?” Calvin Johnson Sr. said, shaking his head in disbelief of his son’s success. “It’s not something you can imagine. It just happens.”
Not without one of the greatest work ethics in all of sports.
To his teammates, what happens on game day isn’t unexpected anymore because they see what Johnson does on a daily basis.
“Height, weight, speed, all that goes out the window,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “Just the way that he prepares, the way he works, nobody goes about their business as professionally as he does.
“We’re lucky to have a guy like that, that plays a position that not all the time is like that. He sets the standard in the league and it’s a high bar.”
Cornerback Chris Houston called Johnson a “humble guy” who “does everything right.”
“He could be selfish,” Houston said, “but he’s never selfish. He talks about the team. He never talks about himself. I know other superstars; they’d probably be talking about themselves. He’s the most humble star I know in the league.”
Offensive lineman Rob Sims described Johnson’s achievement as “a man amongst boys out there, playing at the highest level for the world to see.” “You’re seeing greatness,” Sims said.
Coach Jim Schwartz added: “I’ve been a NFL fan my entire life. I’ve coached for 19 years in the NFL. I’ve never seen a better player than Calvin Johnson. His best is yet to come.”
Most assumed that Johnson, who was 181 yards behind Rice entering Saturday, would need the final game of the season to finish the job.
But Johnson turned a short pass into a 49-yard gain in the middle of the first quarter, had 117 yards by halftime and just kept on going.
He finished the night with 11 receptions for 225 yards.
Rice had held the record since he caught 122 passes for 1,848 yards in 1995.
Johnson actually broke two other NFL records Saturday, tied another and set a Detroit club record on his way to catching Rice.
He became the first player in league history with eight straight 100-yard receiving games and the first with at least 10 receptions in four consecutive games.
He tied Michael Irvin for the most 100-yard receiving games in a season with his 11th. Irvin set the record in 1995 with Dallas.
Johnson, meanwhile, entered the game needing only 20 yards to break the team record for receiving yardage in a season, which was held by Herman Moore with 1,686 yards in ’95. That was taken care of easily enough in the opening quarter, and Johnson didn’t stop until he had surged past Rice, too.
It was a special night for “Megatron,” but not without a few downers.
He did have a fumble. Stafford threw an interception when he was initially going for the record-breaking completion. Johnson even dropped a pass right after breaking the record.
And, of course, his team suffered its seventh straight loss.
The question now is whether Johnson can reach the 2,000-yard mark. He needs 108 yards next Sunday against the Chicago Bears.