Sunday Wrap: Tale of two wideouts
It was Megatron vs. Megamouth.
In perhaps the most fitting ending of the day, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz handed Calvin Johnson a game ball in the locker room following a 31-30 last-minute victory over the Dallas Cowboys, after which his teammates asked for a speech.
And were denied.
"Man, y’all know I’m not going to say much," Johnson replied.
This was the account fellow Lions wide receiver Kris Durham, who preceded Johnson’s 22-yard catch on the game-winning drive with a 40-yarder of his own on a perfect throw from Matthew Stafford, gave to FOX Sports in a phone interview early Sunday evening as he drove home from Ford FIeld.
Johnson had just posted a career-high 329 yards receiving — seven yards short of Flipper Anderson’s NFL record — and if anyone had a reason to do some yapping, it was Johnson. Yet, true to form, he said very little, even in the privacy of the postgame locker room.
On the other sideline, Dez Bryant was throwing a fit, yelling at Tony Romo, Jason Witten, his coaches, the trainers, the water boys, the chain gang … OK, I exaggerate a bit. But the point is Bryant, who started the chatter last week by basically saying he can do whatever Johnson can do, created a needless storyline in addition to the dominant one — that of a terrific football game and an outstanding duel between two of the best receivers in the game.
Hey, let’s credit Johnson with being the ultimate professional before, during and after the game.
"We tried to get him to say a few words. He didn’t have much to say because he’s Calvin," Durham said. "We’re all fired up, a lot of celebrating going on … but that’s just Calvin. He’s very humble, very quiet. He just does his job and doesn’t say much.
"He just flipped the switch and turned into Megatron, I guess. You have a great game as a receiver if you have 100 yards. He tripled that. Incredible."
The last of Johnson’s yards came one play before Matthew Stafford’s impromptu quarterback sneak — er, leap — across the goal line. But let’s back up a few plays earlier to highlight when Stafford’s outstanding drive began with a strike to Durham, his former college roommate, up the left sideline.
Durham said wide receivers coach Tim Lappano had been telling him to keep running the "rail shot" into the hole between the corner and safety in the Cover-2 look the Cowboys kept giving Detroit’s offense. Durham got an inside release but widened his route to find the middle of that hole between corner Orlando Scandrick and safety Jakar Hamilton. In addition to allowing Durham room to make the catch, getting wide meant he was able to get out of bounds after making the catch.
It was first-and-10 from the Cowboys’ 23 with 33 seconds left. And with the clock stopped, the comeback was possible.
"Matthew was able to throw about the best pass I’ve ever seen, just right in stride, a perfect, perfect ball right on me," said Durham, a former fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks who had played seven total games before this season but has 25 receptions in eight games this year. "It was a perfect spiral and hit me right in stride. I didn’t have much of a choice except to catch it."
Then, after the catch by Johnson, Stafford fooled everybody in the building. And we mean everyone.
The offensive linemen didn’t even block. The Cowboys’ defensive line didn’t rush. Johnson barely moved. Durham said he took one step off the line. That step put him between Stafford and the official on the offensive-left sideline. The replay assistant called down to confirm the score, even though Stafford had trotted into the end zone after reaching across the goal line with his lunge.
Asked how many people knew the sneak was coming, Durham replied, "One."
Everybody thought Stafford signaling a spike meant he was, you know, going to spike it.
"That’s just a guy making a play," Durham said, "doing what he does."
Stafford has received plenty of grief, particularly after he signed a $76 million contract this offseason. But he had a very good game on Sunday (33-for-48 for 488 yards, a touchdown pass, the game-winning touchdown run and two interceptions) and an outstanding final drive.
There was even a moment that won’t show up in the box score. It came during the replay review, when Stafford and the coaches realized a 10-second runoff would follow the replay if the call on the field was reversed. With 12 seconds left, that meant they had to be ready for the snap. So instead of celebrating the touchdown they were pretty sure they had or talking about Stafford’s surprise sneak, the Lions huddled and got ready for a play they never had to run.
"We were too ecstatic to say much," Durham said.
And a few minutes later, even in the privacy of his own locker room, Johnson was too humble to say much. Bryant says he can match Johnson on the field; perhaps he should focus more on emulating him on the sidelines and elsewhere.
‘UGLY’ BUT UNDEFEATED
Andy Reid’s message to his Kansas City Chiefs team after they held on for a 23-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns was, according to linebacker Justin Houston, who spoke to FOX Sports by phone: "Great win. All wins aren’t going to be pretty. A lot of wins are going to be ugly. Just continue to play ball."
Imagine that — a team that won only two games last year needing a reminder that any win is a good win.
"Yeah, we ain’t complaining," Houston said. "As long as we get a ‘W,’ I’m pretty sure everybody’s happy."
And confident. The Chiefs’ defense had to keep the Browns off the scoreboard on five drives in the second half after Cleveland cut the lead to 20-17 to start the second half. In the meantime, the offense managed only three first downs over the final two quarters.
While protecting a slim lead, the Chiefs only allowed the Browns to have one offensive snap across midfield over those final five drives. That play was a sack by Houston, his 11th of the season. Houston had another sack (plus a forced fumble) in the fourth quarter that was negated by an offside penalty on Tamba Hali.
"Yeah, (the defense’s confidence) is growing. It’s growing every week," Houston said. "We have a lot of confidence. We’ve had confidence since the season started. We believe in our guys and the coaches and believe in one another."
‘THANK YOU FOR TRUSTING IN ME’
The impact of Kenny Stills’ touchdown against the New England Patriots two weeks ago was lessened by what Tom Brady did on the following drive, when he hit Kenbrell Thompkins for a game-winning touchdown. What was almost a game-winner for Stills, the New Orleans Saints’ rookie fifth-round pick, was instead little more than a confidence-builder.
This week, Stills reaped the rewards with three catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over the Buffalo Bills.
"I just hope by making those plays it builds their confidence, from Coach (Sean) Payton through the rest of the guys on the team. It’s a great feeling to have people trust in you and your play-making abilities," Stills told FOX Sports by phone. "After the play (in New England), I went up to Drew (Brees) and said, ‘Thanks for trusting me to make a play for the team. I really appreciate that.’"
Brees undoubtedly appreciates another weapon that’s gotten over the top of defenses for touchdowns of 34, 42 and 69 yards in his past two games.
"A lot of it is not what I’m doing. A lot of it is what we’re doing schematically and what Drew does with his eyes," Stills said. "A lot of the plays we score on, Drew’s going through his mechanics, going through his reads, looking the safeties off and giving us a chance to make a play."
FIVE QUICK TAKES
1) As the NFL tries to grow the game globally with its International Series in London, the NFL Players Association has taken a step toward creating a worldwide connection between dozens of countries and sports on issues of player safety. NFLPA assistant executive director for external affairs George Atallah told FOX Sports Sunday that the union participated in a two-day health and safety exchange in London this weekend organized by Walter Palmer, the head of the sports division of UNI Global, a federation for trade unions worldwide. The discussion centered around issues of physical, mental and social well-being.
Though the NFL has only recently enacted rule changes designed to diagnose and treat concussions, the league has moved more quickly in that area than many other sports worldwide. Meanwhile, organizations like soccer clubs have better addressed issues with workplace safety (i.e. playing fields) and social issues with athletes like depression and suicide. Atallah said the NFLPA shared its information on shortened offseasons, limited contact in practice and other changes instituted in the 2011 CBA with representatives from other sports that take a toll on players’ bodies, namely overused baseball pitchers and soccer players who participate in club and national games. Another big topic of discussion was the rights of women athletes.
2) As for London itself as a possible destination for an NFL team, it’s not hard to see why the league thinks it’s feasible. One look at the attendance Sunday — 83,559 — for a game everyone knew would be a laugher shows the apparent passion the locals, Americans and American ex-pats have for the game. And frankly, they haven’t been given a very good slate of matchups since the series arrived in Wembley in 2007, which makes the attendance figure even more impressive.
There will continue to be discussion about the logistics of having an overseas team, and sources say one idea that’s gained a bit of traction is having the team’s facility — or perhaps a satellite building — on the East Coast of the U.S., with offseason workouts, camps and even some in-season practices held there. If the NFL puts a team in London soon, expect the organization to have a presence here in the States as well.
3) Don’t look now, but the New York Giants (2-6) are lurking in the NFC East, two games behind the 4-4 Cowboys. And seriously, the Giants don’t want you to look. Or talk about it. I texted a Giants player after Sunday’s 15-7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles to say they were suddenly making a charge. That player’s reply: "Shhhh." The Giants have a bye this coming weekend and then three straight home games (against the Raiders, Packers and Cowboys).
Last week, a front-office member of an AFC team that’s doing just fine told me the Giants’ victory over the Minnesota Vikings, ugly or not, was one that could spark that team. That personnel guy knows how quickly things can turn for a team, and it’s quite possible they’re turning for the Giants.
4) It’s often said Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee (11 interceptions in 43 games) has a knack for being around the football. That’s accurate. What’s not accurate is when it’s suggested Lee is lucky to be near the ball. Watch both of his interceptions on Sunday. On the first one, he snapped his head around and darted underneath Johnson. Instead of just trying to put a lick on Johnson to separate him from the ball, Lee was ready for a deflection. It came and he grabbed it for a turnover. On his second interception, Lee watched Stafford’s eyes and perfectly undercut the slant. Lee’s instincts are outstanding, and they were on full display on Sunday.
5) Brandon Gibson likely has a torn patella tendon and is an enormous loss for the Miami Dolphins. The big free-agent signing for Miami this offseason was Mike Wallace ($60 million, 30 catches, 398 yards and a touchdown), but Gibson ($9.8 million, 30 receptions, 326 yards and three touchdowns) had been the best addition for the team. Over his previous four games, he’d caught 21 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He added a 4-yard touchdown early in Sunday’s game vs. the New England Patriots but then suffered his knee injury as he went up for a pass. That’s two torn patella tendons for two big offensive additions in Miami — Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller, who was hurt in the preseason.
10 EVEN QUICKER TAKES
Terrelle Pryor: The read option, an alleged fad, is now firmly entrenched in the record books. His 93-yard touchdown run is the longest by a quarterback in NFL history, beating Kordell Stewart’s 80-yard run.
Michael Vick and Nick Foles: It doesn’t sound as if either will be ready for next Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders. A source said Foles continues to be slow to recover from a concussion and has been battling fatigue issues, though blood tests last week ruled out any serious issues. It appears Matt Barkley will be making his first start.
The Jets: A look at their win-one-lose-one pattern so far indicates they haven’t handled prosperity well, but what Jets fan wouldn’t have signed up for a 4-4 start?
Malik Jackson: Though it probably wouldn’t have stopped the Broncos’ 38-point onslaught, Jackson should’ve been called for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Robert Griffin III when the game was tied at 21. Instead, the Redskins punted. That was a big potential turning point ignored.
Marvin Jones: He announced his presence with four receiving touchdowns on Sunday (the first to do that since Terrell Owens and Randy Moss in 2007), but he had three coming in and is averaging 15.4 yards per catch on 24 receptions. With all that attention Rex Ryan devoted to A.J. Green, it looks like he forgot about Mr. Jones.
Adrian Peterson: Anyone who thought his hamstring injury would continue to affect him obviously doesn’t remember he played with a sports hernia, in addition to his surgically repaired knee, last year. Peterson’s touchdown run at the end of the second quarter Sunday, when he willed himself through three defenders for the final 3 yards, was even that much more impressive considering he pushed off with the damaged muscle. Too bad the rest of the team is in shambles.
Greg Jennings: Oh, how I’d love to know what he said in Aaron Rodgers’ ear at the conclusion of Sunday night’s game.
Atlanta Falcons: Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals will pretty much do it for the Falcons’ season.
The Green Bay Packers’ running game: Now the fourth-ranked rushing attack in the league. Their rankings in that department over the previous eight seasons, starting with 2012 and working backward: 20th, 27th, 24th, 14th, 17th, 21st, 23rd and 30th.
Trading deadline: Historically, lots of chatter, very little action. Don’t expect much of a change with regard to volume of deals this year.