Calvin Johnson's big finish

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
11:50
AM ET
We can't close the book on Saturday night's wild-card playoff game at the Superdome without putting some perspective on the performance of Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.

Johnson
Johnson
Though overshadowed by a 45-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Johnson caught 12 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns against a defense that had pledged to stop him at all costs. As the chart shows, Johnson was just the third receiver since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to combine at least 200 receiving yards and two touchdowns in a playoff game.

Six of those 12 receptions came on passes that traveled at least 11 yards downfield. That's a credit to the Lions' pass protection, quarterback Matthew Stafford's aggressiveness and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's creative pre-snap positioning.

"We changed his route tree up so they couldn't guess on some of the things he would do," Stafford said.

If there was any doubt before, Johnson's massive push over the Lions' final four games -- he had three 200-yard games and a total of 771 receiving yards over that span -- will probably lead to the richest contract for a receiver in NFL history. It would be all but prohibitive for the Lions to bring Johnson back under the terms of his current deal, which calls for a base salary of $14 million and would force an untenable salary cap number of at least $18.5 million, before postseason adjustments, on the Lions' already-tight cap ledger.

I don't yet have projected 2012 cap figures for teams, but the Lions will need to create space even if they could fit in Johnson's figure. Defensive end Cliff Avril, middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright are all unrestricted free agents and worthy of multi-year contracts. Stay tuned.

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