NFC North: Vontaze Burfict

Matthew Stafford had looked, kind of, for Calvin Johnson the play before. He was rushed. He threw the ball away and backed his team up with a rare intentional grounding call.

Plus, Detroit's right tackle, Corey Hilliard, injured his knee on the play. Down by seven points and backed up to a third-and-18 with 12 minutes, 10 seconds to go in the game, he stepped into the shotgun.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsDetroit's Calvin Johnson jumps up to catch a 50-yard touchdown pass in what some players are calling the "best catch" ever.
Later, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz would say what came next was “schemed up.” Except not all of it could have been. No chance at all. Because no one schemes throwing to a receiver in triple coverage, even if it is Johnson.

And no one can realistically expect Johnson to come down with that catch. Yet he did.

Stafford lined up in shotgun, a running back directly to his left. Receiver Kris Durham was wide left and Ryan Broyles wide right. Johnson was in the slot and tight end Brandon Pettigrew was just off the line to the right side.

Then the ball was snapped.

“Rolled out right and they did a great job of playing deep to short (Sunday) with Calvin on the field,” Stafford said. “Held it as long as I could.”

Stafford rolled and actually had time to let Johnson streak down the field. Left tackle Riley Reiff, who had re-entered the game on that play after injuring his right hamstring earlier Sunday, had a good single block on Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson.

Center Dominic Raiola and left guard Rob Sims initially held their block as well, giving Stafford time to scan. But Raiola eventually lost his guy, sending Stafford running forward looking downfield.

Around the same time, Johnson -- who had been running just inside the numbers on the right side of the field -- cut inside to the post at the 30-yard line. Cincinnati safety George Iloka looked to pick Johnson up at this point in what appeared to be zone coverage. Iloka, though, could never get in front of Johnson, trailing him from the back the entire way.

Meanwhile, Stafford was running forward with Michael Johnson trailing him and closing fast.

“Matt had to buy a little time in the pocket and, you know, we saw that guy bearing down on him and didn’t know if he was going to be able to get that ball off,” Schwartz said.

He did, releasing the ball at the Detroit 48-yard line toward the end zone. What happened next was the surprising part.

Johnson found some room in the end zone, but was blanketed by Iloka behind him, linebacker Vontaze Burfict just to the left of him and a closing safety, Reggie Nelson, running toward the play and lining up to either intercept the ball or knock it down.

Nelson jumped with one foot instead of two and appeared to almost tip the ball, but Johnson appeared to reach up over him to grab it. He declined to talk with reporters after Sunday’s game.

“Oh man,” said Durham, who was close enough on the play to be the first Lions player to reach Johnson after he caught it. “That was in triple coverage. You’ve just got to say ‘Wow.’

“He’s probably the only person I’ve ever seen that could be able to make that play.”

Stafford didn’t see much of it. Michael Johnson hit him milliseconds after he threw the ball. Stafford’s head was initially down, but he looked up after a few seconds.

“Didn’t see a whole lot of it,” Stafford said. “Saw the very end of it with one of the best catches I’ve ever seen.”

It was one big catch in a day of many large catches for Johnson, who finished with nine for 155 yards and two touchdowns. None, though, as spectacular as his 50-yard grab in triple coverage -- a catch Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green called “unbelievable” and “the best I have ever seen.”

“He was also Megatron yesterday,” Schwartz said Monday, answering a question about Johnson’s health. “He wasn’t Calvin yesterday. He was Megatron yesterday.

“And he did everything he could to get us in position to win that game.”

Fines signal officiating mistakes

September, 27, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When players are fined for hits that were not penalized during the game, it’s essentially an admission of an officiating error.

For the second straight week, that applied to a Green Bay Packers' opponent.

Bush
Finley
On Friday, the NFL announced it fined Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka $15,000 for his unpenalized hit during the first quarter of Sunday’s game that left Packers tight end Jermichael Finley with a concussion.

A league spokesman said Iloka was fined for “unnecessarily striking a defenseless player in the head and neck area.”

Finley could not return to the game, and his status is unknown for the Packers’ next game, following their bye, against Detroit on Oct. 6.

That fine came a week after Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather was fined $42,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who also was forced to leave the game with a concussion. Lacy did not play against the Bengals. Like in the case with Iloka, the game officials did not call a penalty on Meriweather.

Also on Friday, the league announced that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was fined a total of $31,000 for two infractions against the Packers -- one that was called a penalty and one that was not. He was docked $21,000 for “unnecessarily striking a defenseless player (Packers receiver James Jones) in the head and neck area” and another $10,000 for “striking” Packers tight end Ryan Taylor in the groin area. Burfict was not flagged for striking Taylor, who was penalized but not fined after he retaliated against Burfict.

Two other Packers players who were called for personal fouls -- linebacker Nick Perry and cornerback Tramon Williams -- were not fined. Neither was Bengals safety Reggie Nelson for his roughing the passer penalty against Aaron Rodgers, nor defensive end Michael Johnson for hitting Rodgers low, which also wasn’t penalized.

NFC North links: Packers' plan for Woodson

February, 28, 2012
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Chicago Bears

Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune writes that the Bears have plenty of defensive ends to choose from with their first-round pick.

Defensive tackle Anthony Adams handled his release from the Bears with class, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Detroit Lions

If the Lions want to roll the dice and gamble on a high-risk, high-reward player, they should draft Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, writes Chris McCosky of The Detroit News.

Detroit Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders is divorcing his wife, Lauren Sanders, after more than 11 years of marriage.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers plan to keep Charles Woodson at cornerback, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Coach Mike McCarthy vows the Packers will be better at tackling saying, "If guys don't tackle, they're not playing. They're getting just pulled off the field," McGinn reports.

Minnesota Vikings

The draft-day landscape has been altered for the Vikings now that the Rams are interested in trading the second overall pick.

Unless the Vikings swing a trade, they won’t be picking in the right spot to make Dontari Poe their defensive line anchor of the future.

NFC North links: Burfict a fit for Lions?

February, 27, 2012
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Chicago Bears

The Bears informed veteran defensive tackle Anthony Adams that they plan to release him.

Coach Lovie Smith weighs in on how his defensive linemen played in 2011.

The Chicago Tribune's Dan Pompei breaks down how the top receivers performed at the NFL combine.

Detroit Lions

The Lions have some decisions to make at quarterback, as the contracts for both backups — Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton — expire in 2012.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press looks at how Vontaze Burfict, who declared Sunday he was the best linebacker in the draft, would fit with the Lions.

Green Bay Packers

With Matt Flynn's future with the Packers in doubt, the team could draft a quarterback in the later rounds, writes the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Pete Doughtery.

The Packers met with the agent for Texans center Chris Myers, who is one of the top free agents available at his position, at the NFL combine.

Minnesota Vikings

Could the Vikings pass on USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall? The Star Tribune's Dan Wiederer examines the argument for not taking a tackle so early.

Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press looks at this draft's strong class of cornerbacks, a position of need for the Vikings.

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