The Detroit Lions knew the Washington Redskins’ defense would make record-breaking wide receiver Calvin Johnson its primary focus. Quarterback Matthew Stafford didn’t let that deter him.
Following the Lions’ 27-20 victory at FedEx Field, Stafford said there were few times he didn’t see the Redskins lined up in a cover-one formation, in which a cornerback and safety devoted attention to the 6-foot-5 Johnson. But as single-minded as the Redskins’ defensive approach may have been, Stafford proved even more stubborn in getting the ball to his all-pro wideout.
The two connected on seven passes for 115 yards, including the decisive touchdown that Johnson snatched away from four Redskins defenders.
“I figured somebody would be right there to bang me right when I caught it, or I figured a safety would try to come down in there,” Johnson said. “But Matt whipped it in there.”
“[The Redskins] had a great call on it,” Stafford said. “We just did a good job of making a play.”
Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season mark for receiving yards in 2012 by recording 1,964. On Sunday, DeAngelo Hall was tasked with shadowing Johnson.
In the first quarter, Hall moved inside to intercept a Stafford throw and returned it 17 yards for the Redskins’ first score. In the second quarter, Hall teamed with the deep coverage of safety Brandon Meriweather to limit Johnson to one catch for 13 yards. The effort helped slow down a Detroit offense that racked up 148 passing yards in the first quarter and seemed to put Washington in position to take control of the game.
“They played two coverages the whole day, rushing five and playing a lot of cover-one,” Stafford said. “They were leaning the safety big time to Calvin’s side every time . . . so it was kind of tough to get him the ball downfield.”
Stafford adjusted by spreading the ball to seven other receivers, with Nate Burleson serving as the biggest beneficiary. Burleson caught six passes for 116 yards.
“There are a lot of people that make a long career out of being the background dancer, so I’m good,” Burleson joked afterward. “If this is the Jackson 5, I’ll be Tito.”
Johnson’s mere presence kept the Redskins’ defense honest, and the star figured it was a matter of time before he would be able to get loose in coverage.
“You hear a lot of noise about the yards they give up after the catch and all the yards they’ve given up in the first two weeks of the season, so we knew we were going to have an opportunity.”
After Detroit recovered a Robert Griffin III fumble early in the fourth quarter, Stafford rolled out and threw a laser to Johnson, who extended for an 18-yard catch while toeing the sideline and falling out of bounds.
Later in the period, Johnson was forced to adjust when the Redskins switched their coverage to a zone that blanketed most of the end zone. As Johnson ran to his spot, several players instinctively converged on him. But Johnson used his large frame to establish position and bring in an 11-yard score that put the Lions up 27-17 with less than four minutes remaining.