Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Megatron' Johnson erases Rice's record

Once again, he can't will Lions to victory

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DETROIT -- Calvin Johnson can do anything he wants on a football field except will his team to wins.

Johnson put on another spellbinding performance, shredding double- and triple-teams to break Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record, but the Lions lost their NFL-worst seventh straight game Saturday, 31-18, to the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field.

On a bittersweet night, Johnson finished with 11 catches for 225 yards and passed Rice, the game's all-time greatest receiver, with a 26-yard catch across the middle with 2:57 to play.

He trotted to the sideline after his record-setting grab and handed the ball to his father, Calvin Johnson Sr., as fans serenaded him with a standing ovation.

Johnson needed 182 yards to pass Rice's 17-year-old mark coming into the game, had 117 by halftime and set a slew of other franchise and league records Saturday night.

With one game to play next Sunday against the Chicago Bears, Johnson has 1,892 yards receiving and now owns NFL marks for most consecutive 100-yard games (eight), most consecutive games with 10 or more catches (four) and is tied for most 100-yard games in a season (11).

He broke Herman Moore's single-season franchise record of 1,686 receiving yards with his second catch of the game, a 49-yard drag when he beat single coverage across the middle of the field and ran free down the Lions sideline.

While Johnson mostly starred -- he lost a second-quarter fumble just before halftime to set up a Falcons touchdown -- the Lions (4-11) fell apart in familiar fashion, committing three turnovers to hand Atlanta 17 points.

Roddy White, who nearly matched Johnson's big day, scored on touchdown catches of 44 and 39 yards, and Julio Jones had a beautiful 16-yard catch when he got his left foot down and tapped his right toe just inside the end zone late in the second quarter.

White opened the scoring on the Falcons' second possession, a four-play, 69-yard drive, when he beat Chris Houston with a double move down the Atlanta sideline. The Falcons took possession two plays after Johnson's 49-yard catch, when Corey Peters stripped Mikel Leshoure and Peria Jerry recovered the fumble in Atlanta territory.

The Lions settled for a field goal on the ensuing possession and Ryan answered with a nine-play, 80-yard drive in which he dug the Falcons out of a first-and-20 situation with three short passes. White turned a short bubble screen into his second touchdown, following blocks from Tony Gonzalez (on Jonte Green) and Sam Baker (on Louis Delmas) to the end zone.

Jones' touchdown came seven plays after Johnson fumbled near midfield while fighting for extra yards, and the Lions had to settle for a Hanson field goal on their final possession of the first half after wasting an early timeout.

The Lions called their first timeout on the second play of the game after Gosder Cherilus ran off the field late with what appeared to be an equipment issue. With just one timeout left in the final minute of the first half, a timeout they needed for a field goal, the Lions let 24 seconds tick off between plays on the Atlanta side of the field.

The Lions cut their deficit to 21-16 when they opted for a 20-yard Jason Hanson field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 2 with 13:26 to play, and Ryan answered with a near-perfect 11-play, 78-yard drive to seal the game.

Matthew Stafford was intercepted on the next play when he tried forcing a pass to Johnson and threw behind him over the middle.

Despite the pick, Stafford played one of his best games of the season. He completed 37 of 56 passes for 443 yards and passed Bobby Layne to set a new franchise record for most career completions (1,090). He needs 305 yards next week to reach 5,000 for a second straight year.

Ryan completed his first 12 passes and finished 25 of 32 for the game for 279 and four touchdowns. White caught eight passes for 153 for the Falcons, who improved to 13-2 and clinched homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with the win.

 

-- Detroit Free Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 23, 2012 B5

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