Maybe there is a Madden Curse, after all - and it has missed
Johnson might be immune, but one has to wonder about some other people involved in running the Lions' offense - especially for the way things fell apart late in Sunday's 35-33 giveaway to the Indianapolis Colts at Ford Field.
Strange things are happening - or, more accurately, not happening - to Megatron, the Lions' superstar receiver who made the cover of Madden 2013 this year. Supposedly, a curse goes along with making the Madden cover. Players either get injured or their production declines.
Neither of those things have happened to Johnson to any degree this year. He hasn't missed a game, and he is performing at a historic level in pursuit of the NFL's record of receiving yards set in one season.
The incomparable Jerry Rice holds the record, with 1,848 yards, set in 1995.
Johnson added another 171 yards to his total, on 13 catches against the Colts. That puts him at 1,428 for the season, with four games left.
It was a great game for Johnson - and that's the rub.
In football, greatness is meant to be used, not admired.
When the Lions were in a position to put the hammer down and clinch the game, Johnson was a bystander.
No matter what had happened before – brainless penalties, an offense that bogged down in scoring territory and a defensive breakdown that let the Colts catch a 42-yard touchdown pass against a prevent defense - the Lions were in position to clinch the game with a first down at their 44 and 2:29 left in the game.
The Colts had no answer all game for stopping Johnson.
No problem. Calvin Johnson is the great eraser. He erases problems.
And Stafford tried to get him the ball. Johnson was targeted 20 times to get his 13 catches.
Unfortunately, there was no No. 21 in crunch time.
At the tipping point of the game, the Lions had reached their 44 on a pass meant for Johnson. It landed long - and for a reason. A Colts defender was hanging onto Johnson. The penalty for pass interference advanced the ball 21 yards, with a first down.
The Colts had one precious timeout left in their travel bag. One first down, and the Lions' three-game losing streak was over.
It was time to go to the main man, the guy who couldn't be covered all game, right?
Not so fast. On first down, a run by
That brought up second down, with plenty of time for the brain trust to come up with something special during the timeout. And "special" means "in some way superior." In other words, get the ball to Calvin, who defines special and superior.
Split out at wide receiver, Johnson had a special place to watch a handoff to
Third-and-5, ball at the 49, first down wins it for the Lions.
After watching replays, I can report that Johnson was involved in the play. He was split wide left and did a good job of blocking a Colts defensive back - on the possibility that Leshoure would get within range of a first down after taking a pitchout from Stafford and running left.
A good block was wasted. Leshoure never got that far. Leshoure was stopped for a one-yard gain. The Lions punted - badly, a 25-yard blooper by
From there, the Colts drove 75 yards to win the game. Give them full credit for converting a third down early to keep the drive going, and winning the game on a 14-yard pass to Donnie Avery as time expired.
Those plays, and all the ones before them, were involved in determining the outcome. I get all that, and I get the explanation from Schwartz on calling three running plays - including a third-down run by Leshoure.
I also get that winning teams have to close out games by running the ball. But the Lions aren't built that way.
"That was the right decision at that point," Schwartz said of the decision to run.
But here's the rub.
The superstar with 13 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown, and a drive-extending interference penalty against a defense that couldn't stop him all day, didn't see the ball on any of three plays that could have won the game.
The superstar who made up for manpower shortages all day with a level of play that no Lion except Barry Sanders has performed at for the last half century was a blocker on three of the most critical plays of the game.
Maybe the Madden Curse exists.
It just hasn't infected Calvin Johnson.