While Calvin Johnson has long since established himself as one of the NFL’s elite receivers, Jordy Nelson could be next to join the list.
Looking to build on last week’s win, Nelson and the Green Bay Packers try to continue their recent success against the Detroit Lions as these NFC North rivals meet Sunday at Ford Field.
After a one-sided 36-16 loss at Seattle in their opener, the Packers (1-1) stormed back to beat the New York Jets 31-24 last Sunday.
"It’s a game of adversity. It’s a game of momentum swings. It’s a game of big plays," said coach Mike McCarthy, whose team trailed 21-3 in the second quarter. "We were in a spot, but our players stayed the course."
Aaron Rodgers completed 25 of 42 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns, finding Nelson nine times for a career-high 209 yards. The star-studded duo hooked up for an 80-yard score with 2:08 left in the third quarter to put Green Bay up for good.
"Well, pretty impressive. Take it for granted sometimes. He’s not a big `me’ guy … so he kind of gets overlooked sometimes," Rodgers said of Nelson. "We know the kind of player he is."
Nelson’s 209 receiving yards were the most by a Packer since Don Beebe’s 220 in 1996. His previous career high was 162 against the Lions in a 45-41 win Jan.1, 2012.
While Johnson has racked up a league-leading 1,739 receiving yards since the start of last year, Nelson ranks fourth with 1,606.
"Jordy, you always see him making some big plays. He is definitely their big-play guy," Johnson told the Packers’ official website. "He’s a guy we’ve got to be able to contain come Sunday; you know, not let him get the ball and run with it and find seams to make bigger plays after he catches it."
The Packers have taken 23 of 27 from the Lions despite losing 40-10 on November 28 with Rodgers on the sideline. Johnson had six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown that day, giving him 12 scores in 12 games against Green Bay. He’s hauled in 32 catches for 606 yards during a four-game stretch in the series.
"It’s a big game. It’s a divisional game," Johnson said of Sunday’s showdown. "It’s a home game for us, so we definitely want to take care of our home field. At the same time, we want to take care of our divisional games whenever they come."
The Lions (1-1) opened with a 35-14 win over the New York Giants before falling 24-7 at Carolina last Sunday. Rookie kicker Nate Freese missed two field-goal attempts and Matthew Stafford was 27 of 48 for 291 yards with a touchdown and an interception – one of three Lions turnovers.
"What you have to make certain of is that everybody needs to understand that this only counts as one game. This team is not 0-12, or anything of that nature, so there’s some balance to it," first-year coach Jim Caldwell said.
"Just like last week there weren’t a bunch of guys hollering about the win, they were level-headed and I believe they will handle the loss the exact same way. We will be level-headed, get our corrections made, focus on our next opponent and move forward."
Only three teams have been less efficient running the ball than the Lions, who are averaging 3.0 yards per carry. They may be able to break out against a Packers defense giving up an average of 176.5 rushing yards to rank 31st in the league.
Green Bay’s defense showed some improvement last weekend, though, allowing just three points and 100 yards after halftime. A.J. Hawk had 10 tackles and cornerback Tramon Williams picked off his first pass of the year.
"I think there were some very positive things from this game we can take and build on," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Obviously, our goal is to be able to start the way we finished the game. To be able to get to where we want to go, we have to be able to play a whole game like that. That will be the challenge."
The Packers will try to contain Stafford, who’s thrown for 637 yards and three touchdowns. He has compiled a 1-6 record against Green Bay while throwing 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Rodgers has posted a 111.0 passer rating against the Lions, going 9-1 with 19 TDs and five picks. His only loss came 7-3 at Detroit in December 2010 after leaving in the second quarter with a concussion.