The Giants were doing something almost unfathomable -- something that led Calvin Johnson to the second-best receiving game in NFL history last season. For stretches of Monday night's 35-14 Lions win, the Giants chose to single-cover Johnson.
Big, big mistake.
"That was really surprising," Tate said. "I can't believe you would ever leave CJ open. Ever. But they did a bunch of times, and we capitalized on it. If they do that, that's what we have to do. Consistently."
The Giants’ game plan was to entrust cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to single-cover Johnson, similar to what Dallas tried to do last season with Brandon Carr when Johnson had 329 yards receiving. That strategy failed an NFC East opponent again.
It started early, when Matthew Stafford evaded Damontre Moore in the backfield and saw Johnson open with no defender within 20 yards of him. Rodgers-Cromartie and Stevie Brown appeared to misidentify the coverage on the play. That 67-yard touchdown started Johnson's seven-catch, 164-yard, two-touchdown night. He didn't remember the last time he was that open.
Johnson's 98 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter were both career bests for an opening quarter.
"There were some opportunities there where we had some single coverage," Johnson said. "It wasn't all the time. But there were some opportunities."
Johnson noticed the single coverage. The Lions also saw the Giants' safeties cheating down in Cover 2 on intermediate routes. By doing that, Johnson and Tate were able to get behind the defense for big plays.
"After looking at some of the clips and some of the pictures and stuff, we definitely seen the safeties starting to get a little nosy," receiver Jeremy Ross said. "So we were able to get on top of them."
No one more than Johnson. On one such play, he caught his 22nd touchdown reception on a pass of more than 15 yards since 2010, the most in the NFL in that span. He has 123 catches and 3,359 yards on deep passes since 2010, also the best in the NFL over that period.
It's part of what makes him such a significant deep threat.
Part of why Johnson was able to break free so often is how the team has treated him, both in the offseason and again in the opener on Monday night. The Lions played him in only one of four preseason games. They held him out of an early scrimmage. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi also indicated multiple times throughout the preseason he wouldn't play Johnson every play, in an effort to keep him fresh.
Lombardi held true to that Monday night, as there were multiple plays in which Johnson watched from the sideline with different personnel on the field.
"That plays a part in me feeling fresher throughout the game," Johnson said. "We have a lot of weapons. Like I say, tight ends, receivers, running backs -- everybody gets a chance to eat."
On Monday night, no one ate as much as Johnson, who once again showed why he is the best receiver in the NFL.