O'Hara: Johnson is within Rice's record - I say go for it

Posted Nov 28, 2012

Having Johnson make a serious run at the record can help win games, starting Sunday against the Colts. And it can give the Lions an emotional lift.

The record total towers above anything put together by any other wide receiver in NFL history: 1,848 receiving yards in a season.

So does the player who accomplished it: Jerry Rice, who set the record in 1995 with the San Francisco 49ers, has been voted the No. 1 player in NFL history in separate polls of fans and a panel of experts for the NFL Network.

Rice's status as the best player of all time is not in immediate jeopardy. No player ever dominated the statistics at his position the way Rice did in in a 20-season career, most of it spent with the 49ers.

But Rice's record for receiving yards in a season is getting a serious challenge from Calvin Johnson. Through the Lions' first 11 games, Megatron has a league-high 1,257 yards. He needs 591 yards to tie Rice's record and 592 to break it in the last five games.

Johnson needs to average 118.4 yards per game in the last five games to break Rice's record. That is well within Johnson's reach, and the opinion here is simple and direct: Go for it.

There is no downside to getting the ball to the NFL's best offensive player, as long as it isn't done as some gimmick – such as a basketball player deliberately banking a shot off his own rim to get a rebound to complete a triple-double.

Having Johnson make a serious run at the record can help win games, starting Sunday against the Colts. And it can give the Lions an emotional lift. He is popular with teammates because of his low-key attitude and unselfish play.

Go for it, for sure.

Johnson remains the quintessential team player, but even he is intrigued by the pursuit of history.

"That wouldn't be huge, breaking Jerry Rice's record," Johnson said, speaking in conjunction with his weekly blog for detroitlions.com.

"That's a landmark. That's crazy. You never know when you're going to be in this position again, so you have to take best advantage of it.

"Breaking it is possible - definitely possible. You just have to get over that 100 mark every game, which is not hard. I'm definitely thinking about it, but I just have to keep on working, keep it in the back of my mind, but still focus on the task at hand."

Johnson recalls how Jerry Rice and Steve Young – a pair of Hall of Famers – were the hottest combination in the NFL.

"When I first really got into football, Steve Young, Jerry - they were the duo that everybody wanted to be like," Johnson said. "Everybody wanted to have that kind of chemistry as far as a wide receiver and a quarterback goes.

"That kind of chemistry on the field, that's what everybody wants. That's what everybody strives for, to put up those kind of numbers."
Again, go for it - especially if Johnson wants to.
There is no guarantee that he'll break it.
Isaac Bruce is the only player to finish within 100 yards of Rice's record. Bruce had 1,785 with the St. Louis Rams, also in 1995.
Johnson has the seventh highest total, with 1,681 in 2011.
For the Lions, there is no downside to getting the ball to the NFL's best offensive player.

Kicker Jason Hanson experienced how Barry Sanders' landmark performance lifted the Lions to the playoffs in 1997.

Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards, and the team fed off his brilliance, winning five of the last six games to finish 9-7 and make the NFC playoffs as a Wild Card.

Sanders finished off his magical regular season with a 184-yard performance in a final-game 13-7 win over the Jets that put the Lions in the playoffs.

"Guys feed off great individual performances," Hanson said. "It was exciting. Everybody wants your teammates to do well. When it's special like that, it adds to the energy."

The Lions are in a deep hole at 4-7 and need to win their last five games to have any chance to make the playoffs.

The Lions played with a high energy level in home losses to the Packers and Texans in the last two games. There's no reason to think they wouldn't get an additional boost from Johnson's pursuit of Rice's record.

"It's a big deal," Hanson said. "Obviously, Calvin is a world-class athlete. It's a team thing, too. You think everybody would give 110 percent already.

"You give 111 when you've got a guy who's going for something. Everybody gets excited for it."

The buzz about the record is building among Johnson's teammates, especially on offense. They think it adds motivation.

"Guys were talking about it today," said rookie receiver Ryan Broyles. "We want to get him to that mark. The guys around him, receivers, have to catch balls to take the pressure off him so he can get there.

"That would be great. Everyone knows who Jerry Rice is. To be able to chalk that one up in the books and one day tell my kids I played with this guy - that would be a huge deal for him, a milestone for him in his career."

The inspiration extends - or, perhaps, starts - to the blockers up front.

"I want to see him do it," said guard Rob Sims. "I think the world of the guy on and off the field. Does it make me play harder? If I can find a way to do that, I will. I think so much of the guy on and off the field. You want him to have it all."

Tackle Gosder Cherilus knows that Johnson's commitment is to winning games, but breaking Rice's record couldn't hurt that.

"Looking at Calvin, he'd rather turn his records into wins, which is what we're trying to do," Cherilus said.

"But it would be good to be a part of it."