DETROIT — Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell had to adjust the microphone before his post-game news conference.
He didn’t mind because he knew the reason it was too high for him was because his star receiver, 6-foot-5 Calvin Johnson, had just finished his interview.
"Glad to see him at the podium," Caldwell said, smiling.
The Lions were even happier to see Johnson back on the field for Sunday’s 20-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
It was Johnson’s first game in more than a month after missing the last three games because of a severely sprained right ankle.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford didn’t waste much time in trying to take advantage of his favorite weapon. They connected on a 49-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to give the Lions a 10-0 lead.
Johnson went on to catch seven passes for 113 yards.
"He’s the best receiver on the planet and he played like it today," Stafford said.
Johnson admitted he wasn’t quite at full strength, but he looked close enough.
"It’s sore," he said. "Just got to play through it."
With Johnson’s return, the Lions now have as dangerous of a one-two punch as there is in the league.
Golden Tate, who helped carry the team while Johnson was down, added 11 receptions for 109 yards.
His 10-yard gain, as he lunged to barely get a first down, was a key play on the Lions’ game-winning drive.
"Having Calvin back certainly changed the dynamics a little bit, but you still see the little guy (Tate, who is 5-10) comes up big and played extremely well," Caldwell said.
Miami’s first drive got singlehandedly blown up by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
He stopped running back Lamar Miller for a 2-yard loss on first down and then sacked quarterback Ryan Tannehill for a 10-yard loss, leaving the Dolphins with a third-and-22 situation.
Suh finished with one sack, three tackles for loss, three quarterbacks hits and one fumble recovery.
"Our front four went out and set the tone," Caldwell said of the early defensive effort. "Suh ended up with three tackles for a loss, that’s hard to do. That shows you’re really in command at your position. He was reckless in there."
Of Miami’s first six offensive plays, four went for negative yardage totaling 31 yards.
The Lions’ defense was absolutely swarming to the ball so much early in the game that Caldwell said it was "unlike anything I’ve seen in a while."
What’s even more impressive is that they did it without defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who is out with a knee injury.
Somehow, someway this surprising top-ranked defense just keeps overachieving week after week, no matter who they lose along the way.
Caldwell said he couldn’t remember off the top of his head ever calling for two fake punts in the same game.
But the Lions did it against the Dolphins.
The first one was successful — a 24-yard gain on a pass from punter Sam Martin to fullback Jed Collins — but the second got stopped short of a first down, albeit in Miami territory.
"Our defense is playing well enough, we can take a chance or two here and there," Caldwell said.
By completing two passes, Martin moved into a tie for fourth place in the NFL in passer rating at 118.8.
He’ll probably be a few hundred attempts from qualifying in the end, but it’s something to tell his grandkids one day.
R00KIE FILLS IN NICELY
Offensive lineman Larry Warford suffered a knee injury on the opening drive and didn’t return. He was replaced at right guard by rookie Travis Swanson, the team’s third-round draft pick from Arkansas.
"When you don’t notice him much, you know he’s doing a pretty good job," Caldwell said of Swanson. "Young fella did a nice job."
Caldwell gave no update after the game on the extent of Warford’s injury.
The Lions finished the game with two rookies on the right side of their offensive line because tackle LaAdrian Waddle also went out with an injury. He was replaced by Cornelius Lucas, who went undrafted coming out of Kansas State.
"Young guys just come in and it’s not too big for them," Caldwell said.
— This is only the second time in Lions’ history that they started a season 7-2. The other time was in 1993 when they finished 10-6 to win the NFC Central before losing their first playoff game to Green Bay.
— The Lions overcame another kicking disaster after Matt Prater’s 42-yard field-goal attempt got blocked and returned to Detroit’s 3-yard line to set up a touchdown and give Miami its first lead. Prater’s kick was extremely low, but he came back to redeem himself, to some extent, by making a 50-yarder to tie the score.
— Kyle Van Noy, making his NFL debut after missing the first eight games following sports-hernia surgery, made a touchdown-saving tackle on the kick return to start the second half.