The Detroit Lions are currently 9-4 for the season, 1st in the NFC North Division and the 2nd seed in the NFC conference and there’s one man to thank for all of that: Calvin Johnson.
Johnson shocked NFL fans when he announced his retirement from the game at the age of 31. He was seemingly still in his prime, but with the rise of football-related concussions, both short-term and long-term, he made a smart decision that gives him room to explore other endeavors, saving his life in the process.
The man who is nicknamed ‘Megatron’, was the face of a Detroit franchise that has struggled to stay consistent and has yet to taste playoff success in recent memory. The Lions are on top of the NFC North and hope to stay that way, which would give them their first division win since 1993.
They are 9-4, with all their games (the win over New Orleans being the exception) being decided by 7 points or less. Their quarterback, Matthew Stafford, has led eight 4th quarter comebacks this season, the most in a single season in NFL history. Stafford is playing his best NFL season to date, throwing 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions and has become more of a general at the line of scrimmage under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. His decision-making and IQ has led to him making smart plays with both his arm and legs rather than recklessly having to throw to Megatron. Stafford’s play is making him a candidate for MVP and Megatron’s retirement is a huge reason why.
With the unique size, speed and catch radius that Johnson had, you would never blame Stafford for trying to get the ball to his best play-maker. However, it made the Lions predictable, especially in clutch situations. Last season, in two-minute drills at the end of the first half or in one-score games in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Stafford threw to Megatron 40% (39/97 passes) of the time and majority of the time, it wouldn’t go the Lions’ way.
But with Megatron calling it a career, it gave Stafford new options to rely on. Golden Tate, who has provided a whole new dynamic for the Lions’ offense since his arrival in 2014, was a great compliment for Megatron but has now stepped up to lead the receiving corps with 71 receptions, 820 yards and 3 TDs. Marvin Jones (46 receptions, 797 yards, 4 TDs) and Eric Ebron (43 receptions, 521 yards, 1 TD) have also both been a critical part of the Lions’ success. Anquan Boldin (55 receptions, 481 yards) leads the team with 7 receiving touchdowns and could end up being a factor for the Lions down the stretch like he was during the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl run in 2012-13.
This balanced output in the passing game has surprisingly given Detroit life in 2016, despite the running game being ranked 29th in the league. On defense, one of their top players in linebacker DeAndre Levy played his first game since Week 1 on Sunday against the Bears, while another of their top stars, Ziggy Ansah, has been had a tough year which was made worse when he suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter against Chicago.
With a lack of star power, Matthew Stafford has become the team’s most valuable player and this statement will never be more tested than now, with Stafford dislocating his middle finger in the win over the Bears. Arguably one of the strongest arms in the NFL will be limited with the finger issue and Detroit faces a three-game stretch where they travel to New York and Dallas, before taking on division rivals Green Bay at home. Stafford’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, with the Lions trying to lock up the 2nd seed in the conference and the NFC North division.
The playoffs start now for Detroit and Megatron will be hoping his sacrifice will have paid off for the city of Detroit.