- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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Unlike a week ago in Green Bay, Johnson felt well enough to at least try to play Sunday against Cleveland. And while he wasn’t the Johnson the Lions had come to expect, he was out there.
“He’s the best receiver on the planet,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “So as much as we can have him out there, we’d love to have him out there. Just a testament to how tough a guy he is, not feeling good and he’s out there battling with his teammates trying to make any play to help us win.”
Johnson wasn’t the normal playmaker he usually is, but his presence still forced Cleveland to pay more attention to him, in some instances opening up the field for his teammates.
He was still targeted eight times in limited duty, making three catches for 25 yards, although none of the bigger plays he usually attempts to make. He dropped a couple of passes. In the first few drives, he didn’t play consecutive plays.
In some ways, this was part of Detroit’s plan for Johnson, who did not speak with reporters following the game. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said the Lions knew they would have Johnson for only a certain number of snaps Sunday -- the number was not divulged -- so they wanted to use him correctly.
For the Lions, that meant more in the second half than the first.
“If we were only going to have him for a certain number of snaps, then we would rather have him in the second half, so we limited his snaps a little bit in the first half,” Schwartz said. “But he was feeling good. He made some contributions and he affected the game also, particularly that second half.
“I think some of Reggie’s [Bush] big plays that came out had a lot to do with Calvin and I think [Joseph] Fauria getting singled up in the red zone had a lot to do with Calvin also.”
Bush ended up with five catches for 57 yards -- all in the second half. Fauria had two of his three touchdown catches in the second half.
And even Fauria’s first touchdown was altered somewhat by Johnson. Stafford had gone to Johnson the play before -- but it was incomplete. The next play was a Fauria touchdown.
“He helped tremendously,” Fauria said. “Having Calvin Johnson, one of the greatest of all time, being lined up next to him is a trip. He does open things up, though.
“Having him on top and Reggie in the backfield and Matthew back there, it opens things up for guys like me to step up.”
As long as Johnson’s knee ails him, the Lions will need that from everyone else.