ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Calvin Johnson is expected to return this week as the Detroit Lions enter a critical stretch of the season.
Johnson said Wednesday he is back to his normal practice routine and will play Sunday when Detroit (6-2) hosts the Miami Dolphins (5-3) at Ford Field.
”Feeling good,” Johnson said. ”Extremely motivated, especially with where we are as a team right now. We’ve got Miami coming to our house so (let’s) go ahead and get off to a good start in the third quarter of the season.”
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Johnson sat out three games with an ankle injury while Detroit carried on and went 3-0 in his absence, albeit with less-than impressive offensive numbers.
The Lions have not gained more than 400 yards since getting 417 in a Week 1 win over the New York Giants.
But Johnson’s return brings renewed hope with Detroit holding a one-game lead over Green Bay (5-3) in the NFC North.
”It changes (our offense), obviously,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. ”Maybe not so much in the plays we run but in how defenses treat us. … ”We’re dangerous in the pass game when he’s out there, so teams are probably worried about defending him scoring an 80-yard touchdown first.”
Golden Tate emerged as a reliable No. 1 target with Johnson sidelined, grabbing at least seven receptions in each of the past four games. Extra reps for he and rookie wideout Corey Fuller over the past month could pay dividends during the second half of the season.
”Golden had a big opportunity this year with Calvin and a bunch of other guys going down to step up,” Stafford said. ”He grabbed that role and played extremely well for us. … With the addition of him and hopefully getting Calvin back and some of the other guys at some point, (the offense) could be dangerous.”
Detroit has also been without tight ends Joseph Fauria, Brandon Pettigrew and rookie Eric Ebron, all three of whom did not play against Atlanta. Running back Reggie Bush was also unavailable against the Falcons, but said Wednesday he will be back for the Miami game.
Detroit’s rushing offense is second-worst in the NFL and in need of a spark entering a key three-game stretch against Miami, at Arizona (7-1) and at New England (7-2). Bush said everyone must do a better job in the backfield, but a healthy Calvin Johnson should help too.
”He’s a running back’s best friend,” Bush said. ”Having him out there, even if he’s just a decoy it’s great for the run game. I think that’s going to have an (impact).”
Miami is one of the hottest teams in the NFL having won four of its past five games, including a 37-0 home win against San Diego last week.
”We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us because we’re playing a team that’s playing extremely well on both sides of the ball,” coach Jim Caldwell said. ”This one presents every challenge that we could possibly think of.”
The Lions started 6-3 last year, but dropped six of their last seven games to miss the playoffs. Bush said it’s important to keep that in mind as the Lions prepare for three straight games against teams with a winning record.
”They don’t give out any awards after the first half of the season,” Bush said. ”If anybody should learn from last year it’s us. We shouldn’t be looking ahead, we shouldn’t be talking about the playoffs. We should be looking at this game and that’s it.”
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