When a team is 4-10 with two games left on the schedule, the only question really left for said team is usually regarding their position in the upcoming draft. That was not the case for the Lions in 2012, however. Calvin Johnson was closing in on the record for most receiving yards in a single season, which was held by Jerry Rice.
On December 22, 2012, the Lions hosted the Atlanta Falcons, with Johnson just a couple hundred yards away from the record. The day of the game, wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson told Johnson that he was going to break the record that night.
“After the first drive, he said, ‘We’re going to get that this game, you know that, right,’ “ Johnson told ESPN.com. “I just shrugged it off, but he believed it. I believed I would get it, but never knew when it would be.”
Jefferson was right on the money that night as Johnson went for 225 receiving yards, albeit in a 31-18 loss at the hands of the Falcons. After his 1,681 yard season in 2011, reaching the record was a goal of Johnson’s. He would go on to finish the year with 1,964 receiving yards.
Coach Jefferson would constantly talk to Johnson about setting the record, to keep it in his head. But Johnson, who doesn’t like to boast about his accomplishments, was never vocal about it. In fact, most of his teammates didn’t even realize he was closing in on the record until the week of the game against Atlanta.
“I had no idea,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “I just knew that he was having a big year and he was going for 200 [yards] it seemed like every other game, so it was impressive.”
Johnson’s road to the receiving record was impressive, to say the least. He recorded no less than 118 yards in eight of the last nine games of the season, two of which saw him go over 200 yards.
“You know it’s reachable with a person like [Johnson] because you know what he’s capable of,” tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “He closes in on a lot of records with the plays that he makes.”
It’s not possible to look past what Johnson has done over the course of his career. Despite the injuries that have mounted the last couple of seasons, he is on track to top the 1,000-yard mark for the sixth straight year. Those injuries have brought up some questions recently, though. Having just turned 30 this year, and facing the adversity of a struggling team and injuries, Johnson is getting plenty of satisfaction from what he has been able to accomplish.
“I can’t lie and say no to that,” Johnson said. “But at the same time, like I say, it’s expected of myself to do those things. … Not just for me, but my teammates, that we be productive and as long as we’re on the field, we’re going to surpass that mark.”
With a bright crop of young receivers across the NFL today, it is probably a matter of time before the record is broken again. Johnson has gone on record saying that if it is broken, that he will offer his congratulations, much like Rice did for him.
It would take a lot for the record to be broken this season. With Julio Jones at 1,245 yards and Antonio Brown at 1,192 yards, it would take a special effort from either of them to make it this year. Records are meant to be broken, but it appears that Johnson will hold on to the single-season receiving record, at least for another year.