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6th of August, 2021
ESPN’s Eric Woodyard
DETROIT (WXYZ) — When Matthew Stafford thinks about Calvin Johnson’s 329-yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 27, 2013, the first word that comes to mind is “unbelievable.”
“There were so many amazing plays in that game,” Stafford said, “but his ability to compete until the finish was the greatest part.”
Johnson’s first-quarter slant, which he took for 87 yards, set the tone. Megatron, as a result of his unusual mix of height and speed, went on to grab 13 more passes en way to the second-highest single-game receiving yards total in NFL history, behind only Willie “Flipper” Anderson’s 336-yard performance in 1989.
Stafford told ESPN, “It was an amazing thing to play alongside a man like that.” “I knew I was throwing to a Hall of Famer from the start, as long as he remained healthy.”
On Saturday (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), see the 2020 Centennial Class ceremony in Canton, Ohio, followed by the 2021 HOF class induction on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN):
• Inside Calvin Johnson’s 329-yard game • Troy Polamalu’s relationship with Bill Cowher • Edgerrin James’ legacy linked to HBCUs • J. Johnson: ‘How ’bout those Cowboys?’ • Winston Hill and Joe Namath’s relationship • Charles Woodson’s remarkable NFL career Get to know the HOF classes for this year. • Videos: Check out these Hall of Fame moments.
Stafford was correct.
Johnson will be one of eight members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021 inducted on Sunday in Canton, Ohio (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Throughout his illustrious career, the Lions’ all-time leader in catches (731), receiving yards (11,619), and receiving touchdowns (83) had a slew of noteworthy performances. But none was more memorable than that amazing October day in Detroit, when the Lions pulled off a stunning comeback to defeat “America’s Team” 31-30 at Ford Field.
Johnson ranks that performance among his best three of his remarkable nine-year career, which ends this weekend when he becomes just the third player ever to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the age of 35 or younger, joining Jim Brown and Gale Sayers.
Those who were fortunate enough to see Megatron in his prime were treated to something really unique. And his performance versus Dallas in 2013 was just one of many reasons why he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“It’s thrilling that he’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He’s a worthy recipient “Barry Sanders, a Lions great and fellow Hall of Famer, said ESPN. “When he played, no player or receiver was more dominating than he was.”
ESPN spoke with others who were present, including the guy who “covered” Johnson that day, to recount the tale of one of Johnson’s greatest games.
Calvin Johnson’s Hall of Fame career was littered with remarkable performances. One of his finest games was against Dallas in October of 2013. USA TODAY Sports/Andrew Weber
The source of inspiration
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant made a Monday radio appearance on 103.3 FM ESPN in Dallas in the lead-up to the game. Despite his good intentions, Bryant informed listeners that he wasn’t ready to declare Johnson the NFL’s greatest wide receiver ahead of their matchup at Ford Field the following Sunday.
“I think I am capable of doing anything he is capable of,” Bryant said. “It’s simply a matter of pride.” When it comes to football, it’s all about having the right attitude and mentality.
“I really think that once I’m there, I’ll feel as if there’s nothing I can’t do. I’m going to do everything the coaches ask of me. There’s always a sense that there’s more.”
Those remarks soon made their way back to the Lions’ practice facility in Allen Park. Even after hearing about them from members of the local media, Johnson seemed to give them no attention on the surface. Johnson, on the other hand, anticipated Dallas’ game plan, envisioning how they would defend him and how he would assault tough Cowboys CB Brandon Carr, who would be covering Johnson for the most of the day.
“Calvin was the only one I remembered from practice. He was very silent “Rob Sims, the Lions’ left guard, said. “He didn’t say anything and seemed to be going about his business. It was one of those times when you know you’re in the company of the G.O.A.T. when you watch him play like that in that game.”
Johnson’s pregame ritual stayed the same on Sunday. He came three hours before to start to settle down and remove any potential distractions. He took a stroll around the field to get a sense of what he was going to accomplish, visualizing all of the routes he would take and the blocks he would make.
Then it was time to play.
Johnson said, “I simply let my thoughts sink in and concentrate on what I had to accomplish.”
Brandon Carr, a Michigan native, had his homecoming ruined by an unstoppable Johnson. Rick Osentoski/Associated Press
Getting into the zone
Johnson’s first grab came with 2:44 left in the first quarter, kicking off a near-record-breaking day for him.
Johnson’s juices were flowing with Carr lined up against him on a slant route, fueled by the energy of almost 64,000 screaming spectators. Carr may not have realized it, but the way Dallas’ No. 39 guarded Johnson on that play assisted the eventual Hall of Famer in finding his stride.
When the ball was snapped on 2nd & 10 from the Detroit 10, Johnson took two steps, easily bounced off Carr’s attempted jam and snagged a short pass from Stafford behind the Cowboy linebackers who had bitten on a play fake to Lions running back Reggie Bush. From there, his strength and speed took over, with Johnson easily shedding a Carr tackle at the 25-yard line and then outrunning the Dallas defense before being angled out of bounds at the 5.
Based on the mental yardage meter he’d built over the years, Johnson said he told himself after the 87-yard play that this might be a “200-yard night.”
“One thing I loved about Brandon on certain routes is his aggressive attitude,” Johnson said. “That was great for me because I enjoy contact on the top of certain routes, and that particular climb is a slant.” “On the summit of my slant route, I like making contact. I like putting my weight on you in order to bounce off of you. So, that’s just what occurred. I broke out after getting a stiff arm off of him.”
With many of Carr’s relatives and friends in attendance at Ford Field, the game seemed like a homecoming for him. He was a fifth-round selection from Division II Grand Valley State and grew up a little more than an hour from Detroit in Flint, Michigan.
“Brandon is a tough guy who loves to get his hands on you. I’ve played against him a few times. I have a lot of respect for him because he’s a little sticky, but I didn’t realize he was from Flint at the time.” Johnson stated this while chuckling. “It’s like, ‘Aw man, I don’t want to do that to him at home,’” she says.
Carr, who stands 6-foot-210 pounds, was given the tough job of defending Johnson, a 6-5, 237-pound once-in-a-generation superstar.
Sims simply looked at Johnson in astonishment as the receptions and yards piled up in the huddle.
“That’s probably why you nickname him Megatron. He was wearing a mirror face [mask] “Sims remarked. “The dude’s veins were bulging, but he didn’t say anything. He’s annihilating those lads out there.”
Carr spent the week preceding up to the game preparing for Johnson, putting in hours of video study to ensure his posture was right.
During preparations for Detroit, Dallas’ coaching staff referred to Johnson simply as the “nameless receiver,” as they did with every top wideout, but Carr understood he was up against a difficult task.
“This man is insane. He can sprint 50 yards in 4.3 seconds. Stafford, his quarterback, has a tremendous arm, right? And after running a 4.3, this guy can leap 40 inches on a dime, so it’s like, ‘How in the world can I cover that?’” Carr remarked. “So, in this game, we didn’t do a very good job of setting him up. We didn’t do a good job of communicating where this guy was on each play, and he made us pay the price.”
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Johnson made grab after catch, especially in the second half of the tight game, while benefitting from a lot of one-on-one coverage, with Stafford dropping dimes all over the field. The Cowboys tried to slow him down with a zone at times, but Johnson had other ideas and entered his own kind of zone.
“It’s easy to go off simply by taking your gaze away from the ball for a single second,” Johnson said. “But once you’re tuned in, a lot of it is muscle memory.” “Because you’ve done it so many times in practice, it’s easier to go into that zone because you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, I’m comfortable here because I’ve done this so many times.” So I think your comfort level in the current moment, as well as what you did to prepare for it, is a major part of being in that zone.”
The Lions were behind 10-7 at halftime and had to rally from a 10-point fourth-quarter hole. Stafford hit Johnson on a long middle throw for 17 yards with 56 seconds remaining on their last drive, then found Johnson on another deep ball success for 22 yards with 33 seconds left. Stafford faked a clock-stopping spike before leaping across the goal line for a one-yard touchdown on that play, which set up the winning score.
“Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in the NFL’s history! #dropsthemic, #dropsthemic, #dropsthemic, # “After the game, Bush sent out a tweet.
The Cowboys’ annihilation by Megatron set a number of club and league records. Johnson’s 14 catches matched for the most by a Lions player in a single game. It was also his sixth game with more than 200 receiving yards, tying him for the most since 1950. And he had seven catches of at least 20 yards, which matched for the most in a game in the last 20 years.
Despite eight fouls, Johnson was aware of his teammates setting him for success, despite his connection with Stafford, who passed for 488 yards, his second-highest single-game total in his career.
The accomplishment was made possible through strong blocking and a team effort from those surrounding him.
Stafford, who made 33 of 48 tries, was “putting everything on the money,” according to Johnson. “He was tossing balls towards the backs of DB’s heads, but we caught them.”
In a 31-30 victory against the Cowboys, Johnson and quarterback Matthew Stafford connected 14 times for 329 yards. Getty Images/Leon Halip
The Lions moved to 5-3 with their victory against the Cowboys in Detroit. After that, Johnson’s first thought was to silence his aunt, who is a die-hard Cowboys supporter.
Johnson didn’t have to say much in response to Bryant’s pregame remarks. He let his deeds speak for themselves. Despite the fact that Bryant had a good game, scoring two touchdowns on three catches for 72 yards, their level of performance was not similar. Bryant flailed his arms and shouted at Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo on the bench during the third quarter after not being named the intended receiver on a play, which he later characterized as good emotion.
Johnson laughed off Bryant’s remark, “Of course, it adds a little gunpowder.” “It just adds fuel to the fire and makes that fire that much bigger when they have to deal with it, and I believe they did that before when we played them down in Dallas a couple years ago, when Rob Ryan said something and it happened then, so you’d think they would’ve learned then, but they clearly didn’t.”
Johnson received a game ball from Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who also informed him of the official yards total. His phone was inundated with congratulatory text messages and phone calls from friends and relatives. But he spent his postgame time alone, in the ice bath at home, before watching the highlights of the performance on TV with his feet propped up for recuperation.
Johnson thought to himself, “That was a lot of running today.”
Carr was astounded by the number of plays in which Johnson was engaged. In all, he was targeted 16 times. Covering Johnson was nothing compared to checking other receivers. Carr learned Johnson’s official yards total after the game on the team bus.
“I was like, ‘Damn, we didn’t give this guy enough credit,’” I said shortly after the game. “I looked through the game and the week of preparation and I was like, ‘Damn, we didn’t give this man enough credit.” Carr remarked. “I’m not saying we’re scared of him, but give that guy credit and acknowledge who he is so we can really prepare our minds to go out there and stop a Megatron force, which he is.”
Carr now considers Johnson “one of the greatest to ever do it” and hopes that others will as well. He’ll never forget being there to see that performance.
“Randy Moss made coaches go out and recruit 6-foot-3 cornerbacks with a big wingspan like myself, and then Calvin came along and made it difficult for those same prospects,” Carr said.
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