There’s a tendency in the playoffs to praise great clutch performances only if they come from players on the winning team. But the reality is that sometimes great players turn in great games in defeat, and there are few better examples than the great game turned in by Calvin Johnson in New Orleans on Saturday night.
Appearing in the playoffs for the first time, Johnson caught 12 passes for 211 yards (the most ever for a player making his playoff debut) and two touchdowns. If all you saw were those numbers, you’d assume that Matthew Stafford was exploiting single coverage and finding Johnson open repeatedly, but anyone who watched the game knows that it was just the opposite: The Saints’ primary objective on defense was to keep Johnson from getting open in the secondary, and the Saints’ defensive backs actually did a pretty good job of sticking with Johnson.
It’s just that it didn’t matter: Stafford would throw to Johnson even when he was covered, and Johnson would catch the ball anyway. Johnson’s big day wasn’t an example of a poor game plan or poor execution from the Saints’ defense, it was just an example of a phenomenal player stepping up in a big game.
After the game, Johnson was sanguine about the Lions’ loss.
“We did make the playoffs this year and that’s a great accomplishment,” Johnson said. “We have some things to work on and we will. We know what we have to do to make the next step.”
The Lions finished the season 0-6 against NFC playoff teams, so it’s clear that Johnson is right: They do have things they need to work on if they want to take the next step. But for Detroit, it’s good to know they have one great player who’s capable of playing great playoff football.