“Can you believe what Calvin did?” Stafford said.
The decompression period was in full deceleration as the Lions’ season had just ended in a 45-28 loss to the Saints in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs.
Stafford wasn’t referring only to Johnson’s performance against the Saints. One of the NFL’s most dominating players had just given another dominating performance: 11 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
It was Johnson’s third 200-yard receiving game in four weeks. Two others came in the regular season – nine catches for 214 yards in a Game 14 win at Oakland, and 11 catches for 244 yards and a score in a loss at Green Bay in the final regular season game.
In his final four games, including the playoff loss, Johnson had 36 catches for 771 yards and six touchdowns.
I bring up Stafford’s comment, and Johnson’s close-out performance, because of another poll that rates the NFL’s top 100 players.
Pete Prisco, highly respected and just as highly qualified as senior NFL columnist for CBSSports.com, ranked Johnson No. 4 in a list he published last week.
This week’s Monday Rundown focuses on
Since Johnson was at Comerica Park on Friday night to take batting practice and throw out the first pitch, there is a personal reflection on how the 2012 Tigers are playing like the 1996 Tigers, an observation on Patriots receiver back-tracking on comments he made about his contract negotiations, and how DeMarcus Ware was available to be drafted by the Lions.
We start with Pete Prisco’s poll:
1. Ranking rankling: The top two players and three of the top six in Prisco’s poll are quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Tom Brady of the Patriots are 1-2, in that order.
No. 3 is Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, with Johnson next. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is No. 5, with Saints QB Drew Brees sixth.
There is a big drop to the next quarterback after Brees. Eli Manning of the Giants is No. 15.
2. My rating: I’m on record as saying, and writing, that Calvin Johnson is the best player in the NFL who is not a quarterback. If someone wants to rate two, five, 10 or 15 quarterbacks ahead of Johnson, that’s OK, because that’s how important quarterbacks are in the NFL.
The other positions fall in order of importance after quarterbacks.
I put Johnson No. 1 among non-quarterbacks next because of his superior athletic ability, and the way he changes how defenses play the Lions compared to the way they play other teams.
3. Prisco’s explanation: There’s no gripe with Prisco’s rating, which he explained it in an e-mail exchange over the weekend.
“I picked Ware because I think he’s special at a special position,” Prisco replied in answer to my question. “This is a QB pass-rusher league, and he’s the best pass-rusher. It was close with Johnson.”
Prisco makes a great point. Ware has been a relentless, productive player since the Cowboys drafted him on the first round in 2005. He has 99.5 sacks in seven seasons and has missed only one game.
He led the league with 20 sacks in 2008 and was second last season with 19.5.
4. Tweet nothing: If any human being wanted to light up the Twitter universe with a play-by-play of his daily life (“Hey gang, just waiting for the muffin to toast” and other breathless entries) it would be Calvin Johnson.
In the last four weeks, he’s made the cover of Madden 2012, been a guest on David Letterman’s show, appeared at the NFL draft in prime time on April 26, and hit and pitches at Comerica.
This month, his Twitter account has three posts, and one is a reference on how to apply for student-athlete scholarships from his foundation. (It’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
5. Long ball: It’s no surprise that Johnson hit a home run in batting practice Friday night, but it’s still impressive that he did it despite hardly ever playing baseball. With Drew Smyly catching, he also threw a high fastball – from off the mound.
He’s amazing athlete who looks like he enjoys every minute.
6. Ware vs. Mike Williams: In the 2005 draft, the Cowboys drafted Ware out of Troy 11th overall. That was one pick after the Lions took wide receiver Mike Williams of Southern Cal, who was out of football the previous season because of an NCAA rules violation regarding the draft.
In terms of one-sided mismatches, that draft decisions ranks with a Rome plow ripping through a field of bamboo.
Williams was a bust in two seasons with the Lions, and he really hasn’t had much of a career, with a slight revival the last two seasons in Seattle.
In seven seasons, only twice has Williams’ receiving total surpassed Ware’s sack total: 29-8 in ’05, and 65-15.5 in 2010.
Last year, Ware’s 19.5 sacks beat Williams’ 18 catches.
Think about that. More sacks than catches.
7. How Williams became a Lion: Matt Millen was president of the Lions for the 2005 draft, and Millen gets the blame for everything that went wrong in his tenure from 2001 through early in ’08.
However, there are some who say that at least one high-ranking member of the Lions’ offensive staff campaigned heavily to draft Mike Williams. Not that it matters now.
8. ’96 Lions vs. 2012 Tigers: In 1996, the Lions were coming off a 10-6 record and a seven-game winning streak at the end of the season. Most of their key players returned, except for Lomas Brown and Chris Spielman, who departed as free agents.
It was supposed to be a contending team, and nobody seemed concerned when the Lions sputtered early. They were 4-2, then 5-6, but with an internal feeling that they’d get it turned around. They never did.
They went 1-9 after the 4-2 start to finish 5-11 and in last place. Coach Wayne Fontes was fired, despite having the league’s leading rusher in Barry Sanders and the No. 2 receiver in Herman Moore.
Baseball to football is an apples-to-chainsaws comparison because the seasons are so dissimilar. But in any sport, teams can get lulled into thinking they’ll turn things around and lose their sense of urgency.
9. Welker Helter Skelter: It didn’t take long for Wes Walker to backtrack on comments he made about his contract negotiations with the Patriots. In an interview last week, he said negotiations were worse than previously, but on Saturday said he had made “a bad choice of words.”
There is an abiding mutual respect between management, ownership and players in New England. One can only assume that was pointed out rather strongly to Welker.
10. Tim Tebow: No list is complete without a mention of Tim Tebow. He didn’t make Prisco’s top 100, but he was left off with this comment: “Well, he’s ranked No. 705.”
Peyton Manning, the man who replaced Tebow in Denver, is ranked 33 – after missing all of 2011 recovering from a neck injury.
I wonder if Mark Sanchez, Tebow’s QB teammate with the Jets, is higher than 705?