Don’t let Johnson’s smile fool you. Underneath that cheery expression, there’s a fierce competitor who wants to make Rice’s accomplishments a distant second to his own effort this year.
Johnson’s record-setting night against the Falcons put him at 1,892 yards for the season, just 108 yards shy of the 2,000 receiving yard plateau. The Lions wide receiver doesn’t normally focus on his own achievements but he admitted Thursday that he wanted to reach the milestone to ensure that no one challenged his record for a very long time.
It “would be big – kind of almost put that (record) away for a while,” he said. “All records are meant to be broken, but it would take a long time for somebody to come and get that. You never know. It could happen next year, but it would be a tough (record to break).”
Getting the yards he needs to break the 2,000-yard mark won’t be easy won’t be easy for Johnson against a Bears team that held him to a season-low three catches for 34 yards on 11 targets when Chicago beat Detroit 13-7 on Oct. 22.
Asked why Chicago was able to limit his effectiveness, Johnson credited Bears’ defensive coordinator - and Johnson’s former head coach in Detroit - Rod Marinelli for designing pass coverage schemes that aren’t easy for him to anticipate.
“(Chicago does) a great job with their safeties and bringing them down really late (to challenge receivers),” he said. “From film, we’ve seen games they haven’t done it as much, but for some reason when we see them, they do a lot of disguising (coverages), which makes it harder (to get open).”
It’s also worth noting that Chicago will be able to devote more attention to stopping Johnson than they did in the teams’ first meeting of the season because of season-ending injuries to receivers Nate Burleson, Titus Young, and Ryan Broyles.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz admits that his current receiving corps has forced him to rely heavily on Johnson’s production, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan says he will have to find creative ways to create space for quarterback Matthew Stafford to get Johnson the ball.
“We’re obviously going to have to put (Johnson) in different positions (on the field),” Linehan said. “There’s going to be even more attention on him with our receiving depth the way it is. Guys have got to be good around him. But I think he’ll still have a productive game the way he’s locked in.”
Johnson isn’t alone in his desire to break the 2,000-yard mark before the season ends. Several of his teammates say they want him to reach the milestone so that he receives the attention they say he has earned by choosing to support the team rather than focus on personal goals.
“He deserves (the recognition),” WR Kris Durham said. “He’s a true professional, he’s a team guy, and I can’t say enough about him. When you’ve have an accomplishment like he had, it’s very easy to congratulate him and make (the focus) about him.”
Johnson stopped short of predicting that he would reach the milestone Thursday, but that didn’t stop teammate Rob Sims from echoing the sentiments of several people in the Lions’ locker room who believe Johnson will reach the 2,000-yard mark.
“(Breaking the 2,000-yard mark) is going to be kind of easy for him,” Sims said. “As good as he is, I think it’s almost a shoe-in.”