Megatron was overworked.
Stafford threw Johnson’s way 17 times, connecting on 10 passes for 83 yards.
“I think he did a good job against him,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of Rhodes. “He had one or two penalties and when you have got two big, physical guys going against each other they get wrapped up sometimes, but I think Xavier did a good job. Calvin Johnson is a tremendous, tremendous football player and there were times that we were helping Xavier. The one third down, he shouldn’t have let him catch that one, on the slant that he hit. I think overall throughout the course of the ball game I thought he did a really good job. He limited his catches to short ones and we hit the quarterback early too, which I think was a factor.”
Johnson’s longest catch of the game was an 18-yarder against Rhodes. He also has three catches that went for 11 yards each. All other receptions were less than 10 yards.
“I feel like he did a great job. This is a big-time receiver,” said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. “This guy makes a lot of money to play this game and I feel like Xavier did a great job covering Calvin the whole game. He’s going to make his plays; Xavier’s going to make his plays.”
The Vikings had Rhodes shadowing Johnson throughout the game, sometimes with help over the top from safety Harrison Smith. The only time that Rhodes wasn’t responsible for Johnson was when the 6-foot-5, 237-pound receiver lined up in the slot.
Then it was up to the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Munnerlyn, who was covering Johnson on three of his targets, allowing two catches for 10 yards.
“If he was in the slot, I had him. We played some different coverage to him, but if he was in the slot we weren’t going to put Xavier in the slot and read this and that,” Munnerlyn said.
While going against Rhodes, Johnson was targeted 14 times, catching eight passes for 73 yards and a touchdown, one that was reviewed and upheld without a good view to determine if Johnson’s feet were in bounds or not.
“We could have kept the quarterback in the pocket, probably could have helped a little bit,” Zimmer said of the touchdown toss. “It was a great throw and catch and he said that he saw his feet touch, his toes touch. It was, I don’t know, I’m watching our right defensive end getting held at that point.”
Zimmer winked after that poke at the officiating.
Rhodes was called for a close pass interference penalty on Johnson, negating an interception by Smith. He also was called for a defensive holding against Johnson that was easily a correct call.
But, overall, Rhodes executed his difficult assignment. On the final drive, once the Lions were in Vikings territory, Johnson was limited to one catch for 3 yards (against Munnerlyn) in his final five targets.
“You’ve got to commend Xavier. Xavier plays man to man on him wherever he goes,” linebacker Gerald Hodges said. “He’s the best receiver in the league, my eyes, and I don’t go off who’s the best receiver in the league by who’s getting the most touchdowns or yardage in a game. Who’s been doing it for the longest? Who’s been doing it consistently after and after and after, and Xavier is the guy sticking to him all the time. You’ve got to commend him.”
In the second game last year – Johnson wasn’t active in the first meeting – with the Lions, the Vikings had Rhodes shadowing Johnson and limited him to four catches for 54 yards, but Johnson was only targeted six times. On Sunday, it was a full-time, draining duty for Rhodes, but he held up well as Johnson was targeted 17 times, 14 of those coming against Rhodes.
“Wow, oh, man, that’s unbelievable. That’s a lot of times, man,” Munnerlyn said. “I guess you’ve got to feed your beast and they tried to feed him today.”