The last time Lions receiver Marvin Jones Jr. faced the Green Bay Packers, he recorded his first career 200-yard receiving game (205). He caught six passes total that day and found the end zone twice.
That Week 3 game at Lambeau Field was part of a terrific stretch of football for Jones to begin this season. He had 482 yards over his first four games, and was at 623 yards after his first seven, a pace that would have put him right among the NFL's leading receivers at this point.
But Jones hasn't kept the pace.
He's had a good season, with 50 receptions for 854 yards, but has just 231 yards over his last seven games. He's struggled at times beating press coverage, and isn't making the big plays down the field we saw earlier in the season.
He had just one catch for 16 yards on seven targets in the loss to Dallas Monday night. It's the third time in the last six games Jones has been held to just one catch in a game.
When asked Wednesday about Jones' lack of production the last month and a half, head coach Jim Caldwell said it's partly been a product of an offensive scheme that spreads the ball around. Caldwell was quick to point out the Lions have five pass catchers, Jones included, with at least 50 catches on the season.
"There's a set of plays that we run, depending upon what kind of coverages we see, what we're preparing for," Caldwell said. "There's a progression (Stafford) follows. It's the same reason why we have the number of guys with over 50 catches. He spreads it around.
"That's how it happens. That's plain and simple. I've said that from the first day that I've stood at this podium for, it's the third year, I think. That's the way it is: We don't force feed it. I think when you start force feeding things, you start turning yourself into a bunch of turnovers. That's not the way you go about it."
But Stafford did make the point after Monday night's loss in Dallas, and said it again Wednesday, that the offense isn't getting enough big plays. Jones was obviously a big part of creating those plays the first half of the season.
"I mean you have to try and create chunk plays in this league, it's the easiest way to score points," Stafford said. "You know, you look at drives that have 20-yard plays in them or more, their likelihood of scoring points in those drives are obviously a lot higher.
"We've done a really nice job this year of scoring some points maybe without them, you know, had some really long drives and been successful at that, but you know, always looking for opportunities to try and be aggressive."
The Lions have struggled to produce those big plays the last two weeks in losses to New York and Dallas. They host another good team with a solid defense Sunday night. Whether it's taking a few more shots down the field or finding creative ways to help get Jones the ball in space, he proved earlier this season he can be a big-play threat, and the Lions could use more of that, especially against the Packers Sunday.
FIVE WITH 50
The Lions are the fifth team in NFL history to feature five players with at least 50 receptions in a season.
Jones* *(50), tight end Eric Ebron (53), running back Theo Riddick (53), receiver Anquan Boldin (63) and Golden Tate (85) have now joined the 1980 Cleveland Browns, 1994 New England Patriots, 2011 New Orleans Saints and 2013 Denver Broncos in accomplishing the feat.
"It's obviously cool to be a part of that kind of stuff," Stafford said of the accomplishment. "I think we've just done a really nice job of spreading the ball around. Guys have done a nice job of getting open and making plays. That's a nice team accomplishment."
The Lions use a sound meter on their scoreboards at Ford Field during games when they want to get a crowd really fired up and noisy. Those meters could hit numbers they haven't seen before Sunday night.
The Lions are playing in the 256th and final game of the 2016 regular season on national television Sunday night at Ford Field with a chance to clinch their first division title since 1993.
"It'll be a lot of fun," Stafford said. "I'm assuming Ford Field will be really loud and a great place to play. It'll be a great atmosphere."
Tate says he can't wait to see what the atmosphere is going to be like.
"I'm excited for this team. I'm excited for this city," he said. "We have a great opportunity to do something that hasn't been done in a long time. We have a chance to do something special."
EDSALL TO UCONN
Caldwell is a huge believer in his assistant coaches getting opportunities to move up the coaching ladder.
Caldwell was hoping Lions director of football research, Randy Edsall, would get the UConn head coaching job, and it appears he has, according to multiple reports.
The Lions have made no official announcement.
"I think he is a strong candidate for that job and I'm hoping everything works out for him because it would certainly be great for him," Caldwell said Wednesday morning.
Edsall previously coached UConn from 1999-2010, before taking over at Maryland. He joined the Lions staff after being dismissed by Maryland last year.
"Just in terms of the overall how we deal with it, we've certainly been there before, so we've had some experience with guys taking a college job in particular and having to balance those things out in between work here and there," Caldwell said. "It kind of depends on each situation is a little bit different."
Lions backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who played under Edsall at UConn, said his former coach will do a great job the second time around.
"He's a really good coach," Orlovsky said. "Great recruiter. I have really high expectations for him to do a really good job there. "I'm really excited for him. I think it's great for him and the university."