Didn’t matter. His wide receivers coach at the time, Shawn Jefferson, went up to Johnson and told him that day -- Dec. 22, 2012 -- would be the day he would pass Jerry Rice and set the single-season receiving yards record.
“After the first drive, he said, ‘We’re going to get that this game, you know that, right,’ “ Johnson said Sunday. “I just shrugged it off, but he believed it. I believed I would get it, but never knew when it would be.”
Jefferson ended up prophetic, but it took a 225-yard performance from Johnson in a 31-18 loss to Atlanta to get there.
In a way, Johnson was setting up to make a run at Rice in 2012 after his a 1,681-yard season in 2011. It was always a goal, just nothing Johnson, not one to keep track of his accolades or yardage, ever focused on.
It's similar now, as Johnson closes in on his sixth straight 1,000-yard season and seventh 1,000-yard season in the past eight years. He has 921 yards through 11 games and could pass 1,000 yards again Thursday night against Green Bay.
Considering Johnson is nine years into his NFL career, has reached age 30 and has battled injuries the past few seasons, the fact he continuously churns out 1,000-yard seasons explains just how special he has been. And this year especially, he’s getting some satisfaction after facing questions about if he was losing a step and starting to decline.
“I can’t lie and say no to that,” Johnson said. “But at the same time, like I say, it’s expected of myself to do those things. ... Not just for me, but my teammates, that we be productive and as long as we’re on the field, we’re going to surpass that mark.”
That day in 2012 -- that entire second half of the 2012 season -- is a career highlight for Johnson. He had one of the best stretches in NFL history to break Rice’s mark and eventually finish with 1,964 yards -- a record that still stands.
“You know it’s reachable with a person like [Johnson] because you know what he’s capable of,” tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “He closes in on a lot of records with the plays that he makes.
“He can pretty much do anything. He’s a hard worker and that’s what carries him.”
Jefferson continually pushed him toward the single-season receiving yards mark during 2012, always putting the thought back in Johnson’s head. Johnson rarely talked about it, though. His teammates weren’t really aware of it, some saying they didn’t know until that week against the Falcons how close Johnson was.
“I had no idea,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “I just knew that he was having a big year and he was going for 200 [yards] it seemed like every other game, so it was impressive.”
It also set a new mark for younger receivers to chase. Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins all spent at least part of this season on pace to break Johnson’s mark. But with five weeks left, it would take a late-season run stronger than Johnson’s in 2012 to dethrone him.
Johnson said if someone did break his record, he would do what Rice did and offer congratulations, because he knows how difficult it is to put together and sustain a season like he did that season, culminating in a record-setting day predicted by his position coach.
And barring Jones or Brown averaging over 140 yards per game the rest of the season, Johnson is going to hold his record for at least one more year.