Last week, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson broke the all-time NFL record for single-season receiving yards. Johnson finished that contest with 205 yards, giving him 1,892 on the season, breaking the old mark of 1,848 yards set by Jerry Rice in 1995.
Anyone who has watched Johnson since he came into the league in 2007 knows he is one of the most talented pass catchers in the game. He now has the numbers to back it up.
This season, Johnson has also broken the NFL record for consecutive 100-yard receiving games (8) and is one away from breaking the all-time record for total 100-yard games in a season (11) set by Michael Irvin in 1995. If Johnson holds pace, his 126.1 receiving yards per game this season will eclipse the old league record of 124.7 yards per contest set by Charley Hennigan in 1961.
Despite Detroit's 4-11 record, "Megatron" is having arguably the greatest season ever for an NFL wide receiver. He is now just 108 yards shy of breaking the 2,000-yard receiving mark, a plateau no receiver in NFL history has reached. So even though the Lions have no shot at making the playoffs this year, the team's passing attack has a lot to play for.
"The Lions have some records that they can achieve here," Lance Briggs said today. "And ending your rival's chance at getting into the playoffs, that's always big."
This means the Chicago Bears' secondary will be in for a hefty dose of Johnson all day when the two teams square off this Sunday. The Bears will need to win at Ford Field and the Vikings will have to lose at home to the Packers if Chicago is to make the postseason. The Lions would love nothing more for Megatron to break the record on their way to a victory that knocks the Bears out of the playoffs.
"As much as this is a great accomplishment for him and breaking a record held by one of the greatest players in the National Football League, Jerry Rice," Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz said, "I think the only focus that Calvin has is just trying to get a win on Sunday."
WR Calvin Johnson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports
The Lions' offense ranks 23rd in rushing (102.7 yards per game), yet ranks 1st in passing (311.5). If Detroit is going to get that win, they'll have to do it through the air. The club ranks second in the NFL in total offense (6,213 yards) and total first downs (362), and are first in passing first downs (257).
In addition to Johnson's accomplishments, quarterback Matthew Stafford is also looking to break an NFL record on Sunday. With 4,695 passing yards on the season, Stafford is 305 yards shy of becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to register back-to-back 5,000-yard seasons.
"Five-thousand yards, I mean I'd love to be able to do it again, but I'd love for it to come with a win," Stafford said.
Needless to say, Stafford – who has the second most passing yards in the league, the second most 300-yard passing games (8) and is leading the NFL in completions (411) – will be slinging the ball early and often against the Bears.
Chicago is in good shape at the cornerback position with Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman – both of whom were named Pro Bowl starters for the NFC last night – healthy on the edges. The onus on stopping Johnson will fall on Tillman, who has had success against Megatron in the past. In 16 career starts against the Lions, Tillman has five interceptions and three forced fumbles.
Yet at the safety position, the Bears are hurting. Craig Steltz is on injured reserve with a chest injury and Chris Conte is out this week with a pulled hamstring. That leaves Major Wright and Anthony Walters on the back end. Wright has started every game this season and has played very well. Yet Walters, a 2011 undrafted free agent, will be making his first career start.
"It's frustrating but that's part of the game," said Steltz. "Anthony will do a great job."
That remains to be seen. Before being thrust into duty last week, Walters had played just 13 defensive snaps in his two-year career. Despite that, he showed very well on tape, playing mostly free safety and keeping the Cardinals' defense in front of him.
Yet it will be a different animal facing Johnson, whose blend of size and speed is unmatched in today's NFL. One false move by Walters and Megatron will make him pay. That could be the difference between the Bears making the playoffs or going home early.
"The way that our defense works is the 11 men on the field need to make plays. If one of the starters goes down, it's another man's opportunity," said Briggs. "If I were one of the young men who were getting that opportunity, I'd be excited. I'd be more than excited. This is my chance to show what I can do.
"We've seen [Walters] a lot on the practice field. The guy is capable. He's smart and understands where he needs to fit. And that's what's important, understanding where you need to fit. You have 10 other guys out there on the field that are very familiar with what we're doing. He'll feel comfortable and he'll fit right in with the rest of us."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.