DETROIT — Calvin Johnson, the main attraction, is more Decoy-tron than Megatron these days.
Nate Burleson, the No. 2 receiver, was sending taped motivational speeches to his teammates from his hospital bed following surgery to repair a broken leg two days earlier.
Somebody needed to break out to save the Detroit Lions, and that clutch performer Sunday turned out to be none other than unpredictable Titus Young, who had been more enigma than hero to that point of his career.
Young, hampered by a knee injury and unproductive for much of the season, came through with a career day that included scoring the winning touchdown with 20 seconds remaining to lead the Lions to a 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field.
“I’ve had a couple games this year where I struggled,” Young said. “I really wasn’t getting all of the plays that I wanted to get. I was down a little bit.
“I saw a lot of guys looking at me throughout the week and seeing how I was going to respond to our adversity and losing a great leader in Nate Burleson. I took it upon myself to do the best I could to be here for my team this week.”
Young, a second-year receiver from Boise State, finished with nine receptions for 100 yards — both career highs — and two touchdowns.
He caught a 46-yard TD pass in the second quarter and then connected again with quarterback Matthew Stafford on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line for the game-winner.
Instead of being buried with a 2-5 record, the Lions improved to 3-4 and take some momentum on the road for their next two games, at Jacksonville and Minnesota.
It’s been a strange, unpredictable ride so far, that’s for sure.
Who would have thought that Stafford still wouldn’t have thrown a touchdown pass to Johnson, arguably the game’s top receiver, through seven games?
Johnson didn’t catch a pass in the first half against the Seahawks, finished with only three receptions and had two drops. One of the drops came in the end zone four plays before Young’s last-second heroics.
Outspoken Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman called Johnson a “non-factor” during a postgame interview.
That’s an overstatement — Stafford said there were “four dudes standing by Calvin and one dude by Titus” on the winning play — but Johnson’s lack of production remains baffling.
It appeared that things might only get worse for the offense when Burleson suffered his season-ending injury in the Monday night loss Oct. 22 at Chicago.
Burleson is the unquestionable emotional leader for the Lions, and he continued to fulfill those duties with an impassioned speech to fire up his teammates. The offensive players watched the video during their meeting Saturday night.
“It was just Nate being Nate,” center Dominic Raiola said. “Everybody’s eyes lit up.
“We were going to take that attitude into today. We need to carry that throughout the rest of the year.”
The timing couldn’t have been better for Young’s emergence, and he wasn’t alone.
Rookie receiver Ryan Broyles caught a touchdown pass for the second straight game.
Backup running back Joique Bell got open for an 11-yard reception on third-and-10 with 35 seconds left, one play after Johnson’s drop, to keep the winning drive alive.
“It’s encouraging to see guys step up when their phone’s ringing,” Raiola said. “We always talk about answering the call. Nate went down. Titus and Broyles need to step up. I thought they did an unreal job.”
So did Stafford when it mattered most.
He became the only quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to throw four last-minute, game-winning touchdowns in his first 36 career starts.
Another one of those came earlier this season, on a 5-yard pass to running back Kevin Smith with 10 seconds left to beat St. Louis in the opener.
This one to knock off the Seahawks (4-4) was also the ninth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in Stafford’s career, including the third this year.
“I was just out there having fun,” Stafford said. “That’s what it’s all about. NFL football, the fourth quarter is fun. All the guys on our team know it. They love it.”
As Stafford put it, “You can erase three bad quarters with one great one in the NFL.”
This time, the Lions’ offense actually got off to a rare decent start. They had two touchdowns by halftime, one more than they’d scored in the first half of their first six games combined.
Still, it would be another one down to the wire. That’s all the Lions know. Their three victories have come by a total of 11 points, their four losses by a combined 24 points.
“You’ve got to live in the moment,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “I think this team does a pretty good job of that.”
They’ll need to continue to do that because they might be facing more serious adversity.
Safety Louis Delmas, who is the emotional force of the defense like Burleson is for the offense, left the game early in the second half with an injured left knee. It’s the same knee that required surgery in early August, forcing him to miss the first four games.
Schwartz said Delmas would undergo more tests Monday to determine the extent of the injury.
The defense already had to overcome the loss of linebacker DeAndre Levy (hamstring), safety Amari Spievey (concussion), and cornerbacks Bill Bentley (shoulder) and Jacob Lacey (concussion) for Sunday’s game.
In many ways, this season hasn’t gone the way the Lions would have expected. The offense has been disappointing, the defense depleted and special teams a disaster at times.
Through it all, they have hung around and persevered. They still have a long way to go to get back in the playoff race, but they’re not dead yet.