O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: What did Johnson's presence mean in Lions' 31-17 win?

Posted Oct 13, 2013

Mike O'Hara looks at Calvin Johnson's play, Joseph Fauria's production and more in the Lions' 31-17 win at Cleveland

CLEVELAND – Burning questions – Calvin Johnson playing,  rookie Joseph Fauria producing, a penalty call against the Browns and and a key field-goal decision – in the Lions’ 31-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns at First Energy Stadium Sunday.

Q. Calvin Johnson played for the Lions after missing the last game with a knee injury. He wasn’t at his best, but what did his presence mean?

A. You’ll never know for sure, and in the first half, it didn’t look there was any impact. He dropped two passes – one in the end zone, and another for what would have been a good gain across midfield – but he picked it up in the second half when the Lions made their rally to come back.

Bottom line: you’d rather have him than not, as long as he isn’t doing further damage to the knee.

Q. Browns grounded: More on Megatron later, but the Browns took a big penalty in the fourth quarter on the possession after the Lions had taken the lead on Matthew Stafford’s third TD pass of the game and second to Joseph Fauria.

On first down at his 34, Brandon Weeden threw a pass under pressure that was out of bounds. After a brief delay, referee Walt Coleman threw the flag for intentional grounding. Right call?

A. My first guess – not second guess (ask Tim Twentyman for verification) was that it was grounding. Weeden was deep in the pocket but still inside the tackle box. Good call by Coleman.

Q. Coach’s decision: On the exchange of possessions, the Lions had fourth down. Coach Jim Schwartz sent David Akers out to try a 51-yard field goal. The payoff with a made field goal was a seven-point lead. The risk was giving Cleveland good field position with a miss.

Right call by the coach?

A. I like aggressive calls, but my choice would have been to line up for a field goal and pooch punt. The risk is giving up field position – almost to midfield – with a missed field goal.

Q. What did the call really mean?

A. it means that the coaches have faith in David Akers, and he has justified it.

Q. Back to Megatron. Was he limited?

A. It sure looked that way, and there was a clue on the first possession that he was not close to full strength. He started but was taken out after the first play and rotated after that. When he’s at full strength, he plays almost every snap. That was far from the case Sunday.

The biggest indication that he was hurting was the two passes he dropped. One was in the end zone, just before Joseph Fauria’s TD catch in the first quarter. The second one was at midfield on what would have been a good gain into Cleveland’s territory.

Johnson had both hands on the ball. He started to lose control almost immediately and it wound up as an incomplete pass.

Q. What does that mean going forward? How should the Lions’ handle his injury and playing time?

A. They need him because he still influences how teams defend him. That was apparent when Joe Haden, a fine cornerback for the Browns, shoved him out of bounds in the end zone and got a penalty for pass interference.

But if the injury limits what he can do on the field and affects his performance, then they have to consider shutting him down for another game or two.

The Lions play their next two games at home – against the Bengals and Cowboys in order – and then have their bye. If the decision is made to rest Johnson and give his knee more time to heal, that means he’ll have three weeks off  before he plays again.

Any decision will be based on what the medical and training staff says, and with Johnson’s final decision. They have a lot more information than they’re making public.

It’s a tough call, either way, because there is so much at stake, starting with contending for the NFC North title and a playoff berth. Johnson’s health is at stake, too. It’s a big call, but if he plays, you know he’s had the final say.

My guess: he keeps playing.

Q. Browns’ pick: The Lions were driving in the third quarter, with first down at the Browns’ 28 and trailing by three points (17-14). Stafford’s pass near the goal line was meant for Patrick Edwards, but it was tipped and intercepted by Tashaun Gipson. How big was that play?

A. It’s almost certain that it kept the Lions from putting points on the board – a tying field goal, or a go-ahead touchdown. And it gave the Browns a reprieve, at least for the moment. They didn’t capitalize and keep momentum in their favor, because the Lions stuffed them on the possession and forced a punt.

Q. Any question about the call there? The Lions were starting to control the tempo, with the offense moving and the defense getting three-and-outs?

A. It was an aggressive call, no doubt, and I like that. For me, the issue was going to Patrick Edwards. He hasn’t come up with enough plays in the first six games to be the go-to receiver.

Other receivers have had issues with drops, but there are better choices than Edwards than going to him on that play.

Q. "Other receivers:" They all had some problems with drops, but in the fourth quarter particularly, there were important catches by Kris Durham, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria, who caught his third TD pass of the game.

What does that say about the group?

A.  You keep hearing coaches and quarterbacks talk about players being professional football players, next man up and all that.

When the Lions needed it, the next men up made plays.

That includes Joseph Fauria, an ultra-confident rookie with Velcro hands. With the Lions down a man at tight end because of Tony Scheffler’s absence, he became a big man.

That’s how teams win.

That’s how the Lions won Sunday.