Then Johnson saw it -- something he hadn’t witnessed at all this season. He saw Stafford crow hop, and he knew the ball was coming. He knew a big play was potentially coming, as long as he was able to make it.
Calvin Johnson being, well, Calvin Johnson, there was always the chance of that.
That’s how the 57-yard downfield reception that led to the Detroit Lions' game-winning field goal unfolded Sunday afternoon. The knowledge of two players who have been together for seven years made everything work just like the days of old in a 37-34 victory over the Chicago Bears.
On Sunday, the Johnson who showed up was the Johnson everyone has been expecting. Six catches for 166 yards off nine targets, including a touchdown catch and a bunch of big plays.
It was vintage Megatron. Johnson looked comfortable. Stafford looked comfortable. They connected downfield and, for the Lions, it was a necessary thing to see.
“It was just something that we really put an emphasis on this week, and [I'm] glad we did,” Johnson said. “[We] went downfield a couple times, had a lot more big plays than we had in the past, so those big plays, they lead to touchdowns.”
Frankly, it was how the Lions should have been using Stafford and Johnson all along.
Stafford threw four touchdowns Sunday, but it was the explosive plays to Johnson that stood out because they were what so obviously had been missing from Detroit’s offense the first five weeks of the season.
Getting Johnson going really makes the entirety of the Lions' offense work. Big shots to Johnson open up things for Golden Tate, Lance Moore and the running game, so it is no coincidence that when Johnson finally found rhythm, Moore had a 100-yard game and the Lions had their best rushing game of the season.
“Yeah, when Calvin’s on, that makes the job easier for everybody,” Tate said. “He’s a spectacular player, and I think he showed today why he is the best and will be the best for a long time, in my mind. Those catches were circus catches.”
Finding Johnson was an obvious plan early -- he was targeted on the first offensive play of the game -- and also late, with the 57-yarder.
Sunday was Johnson’s best game since Week 11 of the 2013 season, when he had six catches for 179 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers. His 27.67 yards per reception were his best since that game as well. It had been six games between 100-yard performances for Johnson -- his longest stretch of non-100-yard games since the 2009 season.
But on Sunday, Calvin Johnson returned, and he did so with a splash. For the Lions' offense to get back on track, they need him to continue doing this.
“It’s the Calvin Johnson that I’ve been seeing for my whole life,” Stafford said. "He’s been the same guy.”
In other words, once again, he was the difference-maker for the entire Lions' offense.
“It opens up everything else,” Moore said. “You know, when you have somebody who can take the top of the coverage off like that and make plays in traffic, it helps everything underneath.
“It gives everybody confidence that we can continue to do those things. Hopefully, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve got a ways to go. We still feel like we could be better. We could be scary good.”