ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions have come a long way since Calvin Johnson’s debut in 2007.
The last two games help sum up that growth in Johnson’s opinion.
The offense drove 80 yards in less than a minute to score the winning touchdown with 12 seconds remaining in a one-point victory over Dallas and then the defense came up with a stop on a two-point conversion with 40 seconds left in a two-point victory at Chicago.
“People used to say when I first got here that we’re used to losing,” Johnson said. “We’d get in a tight situation at the end of the game, guys knew how to lose.
“Well, that’s changed. We know how to win now. Guys make the plays when they have to, when they have an opportunity to.
“We know that we might not get that chance again. So guys get their mindset into it, especially in those clutch situations.”
While he’s accomplished so much individually, including setting the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season last year, there is still much missing from Johnson’s resume.
He’s never won a playoff game, much less played in the Super Bowl.
Perhaps this is the year that his team’s achievements start to balance out a little better with all the individual heroics.
The Lions have a one-game lead in the NFC North with seven games to play. At 6-3, they’re tied for the third-best record in the conference.
“I’m just excited about where we’re at as a team,” Johnson said. “We’ve been building. We continue to build. We just want to keep on stacking wins on top of wins.”
Johnson didn’t practice again Thursday for the second straight day because of an ongoing knee issue.
He was forced to miss the game at Green Bay in Week 5 – the Lions’ most one-sided loss, 22-9, and the worst offensive production of the season – but he’s bounced back with some outstanding performances over the last month.
In his last three games, Johnson has caught 39 passes for 567 yards and five touchdowns.
Despite his absence on the practice field, Johnson confirmed that he expects to play Sunday at Pittsburgh.
“Body’s feeling good,” he said. “Just got some maintenance issues that we’re taking care of. It’s all game related. It’s maintain your body, keep it healthy so you can go on Sunday.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin showed tremendous respect for the Lions’ superstar, referring to him as “Mr. Johnson.”
Tomlin said that the Steelers, like every other opponent of the Lions, will “try to minimize his impact.”
Emphasis, of course, is on “try.”
“That’s been done (eight) times this year and he’s averaging 100 yards a game and a touchdown a game,” Tomlin added. “We’ll do the best we can.”
Johnson has actually averaged 113 receiving yards and 1.1 touchdowns in his eight games.
He played in his 100th career game last week, increasing his receiving total to 8,740 yards. It’s the second-most by any player in his first 100 games in NFL history, behind only Hall of Famer Lance Alworth’s 9,019 yards.
Asked specifically about Matthew Stafford, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger praised the Lions’ QB before saying, “It doesn’t hurt to have the big boy.”
“He is truly one of the freaks of the league,” Roethlisberger said of Mr. Johnson.
EXTRA POINT Lions coach Jim Schwartz scoffed at a report that the club has already decided that Nate Burleson will miss his seventh consecutive game.
Schwartz said that lineup decisions aren’t made until Friday at the earliest, but it certainly hasn’t appeared that Burleson will be back this week.
While he has practiced on a limited basis the last couple weeks, Burleson continues to watch when the offense’s top two units run through some scripted plays at the beginning of practice.
Burleson suffered a broken forearm in a car accident in late September.