Two receivers, at opposite ends of the NFL universe entering the day, challenged records yesterday. They came up just short of being on the top line in receiving yards and touchdowns. Calvin Johnson is the all pro wide receiver, in his prime, who looks to be cementing his case for Canton. Marvin Jones, a second year receiver from California, is not even the most well known NFL player by that name. (That would be the former Jets linebacker).
Let’s start with Jones. He was a 5th round draft pick last year. He had only 18 receptions as a rookie, but 10 of them came in the final two weeks, as did his only touchdown. Jones got off to a slow start this year, with only 9 catches through 5 games. In the two weeks prior, though, he began to become a bigger part of the offense, getting a big run and also adding seven catches, and a touchdown in both games.
None of that, though, could have possibly predicted what Jones was going to do Sunday. He caught all 8 passes thrown his way, had 122 yards receiving, and scored four touchdowns, all thrown in the red zone. According to Pro Football Focus, he only ran 13 routes. He was typically on the field in 3+ WR sets (Sanu was primarily on the field in 2 WR sets and preferred as a blocker). In the red zone, though, he made up for it by being a target for Dalton while teams focused on A.J. Green.
Jones demonstrated excellent body control and instincts near the end zone. He sent Jets cornerback Dee Milliner to the bench because he was getting torched so badly. In doing so, Jones became the first player to score four receiving touchdowns in a game since Randy Moss and Terrell Owens both did it in separate games on November 18, 2007.
He was one away from tying the NFL record of five receiving touchdowns, held by Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Kellen Winslow, along with Bob Shaw of the 1950 Cardinals. He did not get an opportunity, though, to equal the mark after his fourth touchdown. That put the Bengals up 42-9, and they did not throw another pass in the game over the final 17 minutes.
Jones had only 4 career touchdowns coming into this game. Is he the most out of nowhere guy to score 4 in a game? Three other guys have a case. Jerry Butler was the youngest guy to have four touchdowns in a game. He had no career touchdowns when he had 4 against the Jets as a rookie. Butler, though, was the fifth overall pick in the draft and not exactly an unknown. The touchdowns in bunches were not a sign of things to come. Butler would go 15 games before scoring again.
Don Beebe may be a name the casual fan recognizes. In 1991, though, he was a reserve who had 3 career touchdowns, when he outshone both Andre Reed and James Lofton with a 4 touchdown game in week 2. He would go five games without a score after that breakout. Finally, Earnest Gray of the Giants had 4 touchdowns as a rookie. In the season opener in 1980, he caught 4 touchdown passes from Phil Simms. Gray would have eight games without scoring after that, though he did have a 3 touchdown game also later that year.
Marvin Jones’ breakout performance may portend bigger things if he continues to carve out more attention and an expanded role. Or, it could just be one big day thanks to everything coming together, and winning matchups. Whatever it is, for one day, Jones can be mentioned among the greatest games in league history.
At the other end of the spectrum, Calvin Johnson did not need a single game to be recognized among the best at this position. Still, in a matchup where Dez Bryant was on the other side of the field, and there was talk about how he was on a better pace than Johnson at the same age, Megatron went out and put up his career performance.
In doing so, he lit up Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr and the Dallas safeties with a variety of routes showing off his unique skill set–able to run slants and quick crosses, run fly patterns, stops, and deep digs and crosses, all while capable of defeating double teams with outstanding individual catches in traffic.
The day started slowly. In the first twelve minutes, he had only one pass thrown his way, a deep ball down the sideline that he got only one hand on and could not catch. He made up for it, though, in a big way, before the first quarter ended.
Calvin Johnson, all he does is get big plays but not score touchdowns. That 87 yard play is the third longest since 1999 to not score a touchdown, behind only Vincent Jackson going 95 yards last year, and a Brian Griese to Byron Chamberlain 88 yard pass in 1999 (which I know you totally would have guessed). Let’s put that in more perspective. Even without that play, Calvin would go on to have one of the 26 best receiving days since 1960.
Johnson scored his only touchdown a few plays later, on a 4th and 2 that will conveniently be forgotten by the “take the points” crowd in a game where Detroit ended up needing all of them.
Not all was golden on this day for Calvin Johnson. There was an interception that came off Johnson’s hand to Sean Lee, and a fumble in the third quarter. After that fumble, though, Johnson was incredible. He had 195 yards already through three quarters. He was just getting started.
The first play of the final quarter went to Johnson, on a beautiful corner route where Johnson showed off his excellent hands.
Later in the quarter, on the drive that would bring them within 3 points at 27-24, he had a play that is only expected because it is Calvin Johnson. This is highlight reel stuff, but is lost among over 300 yards worth of awesome.
Then, he had the big catch that got Detroit inside the one yard line, setting up Matthew Stafford’s Leap. Flipper Anderson was safe as the all-time record holder, but Johnson had the second biggest receiving yard day in NFL history, and the most in a regulation game (Anderson played in overtime). Calvin Johnson has had many fine days in the NFL. I’m not sure any was as good as that.