Monday Night Football: Bears hope to stop unbeaten Lions
DETROIT — Calvin Johnson has won over Cris Carter. Sort of.
The Detroit Lions receiver is the NFL’s first player to catch more than one touchdown pass in the first four games of a season. Along with Carter, he’s the second in league history to pull off the feat over any four-game stretch.
Carter, though, caught some flack in the Motor City when he didn’t mention Johnson as one of the league’s top five receivers in an ESPN radio interview. And he didn’t back down after Johnson’s sensational start.
The former NFL great and current analyst insists Johnson hasn’t done enough to crack his top four of Roddy White, Greg Jennings, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson.
“I still feel good about saying that because those top four guys are already accomplished wide receivers and Calvin has never played as well as he is now,” Carter said in a telephone interview. “Clearly, he’s playing at another level right now.
“I’m not going to get into who the best receivers are after just four weeks, but I will say that we’ve never seen a wide receiver with Calvin’s speed, height and weight. The only thing that will stop him from being one of the all-time greats is whether he can stay healthy.”
The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson, whose eighth TD catch of the season was captured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, has lifted the Lions to their first 4-0 start since 1980. Detroit is within a win of its best start since 1956 — the year before the franchise’s last NFL title.
The Chicago Bears (2-2) would like to put the breaks on his breakout season and the buzz the Lions have generated when the NFC North rivals meet tonight at Ford Field.
If they can get to Matthew Stafford perhaps as they did in Week 1 last year — when Julius Peppers sacked him from the back, slamming his right shoulder into the ground — that might slow down Johnson. The 6-7, 287-pound Peppers has 91 career sacks and Detroit offensive tackle Jeff Backus won’t soon forget the one he couldn’t stop that played a part in Stafford playing only three games last year.
“He’s got everything you look for — size, speed and strength — and he can take over games,” Backus said. “What Calvin is at the wide receiver position, Peppers is at defensive end.”
Chicago, though, has been struggling on defense.
The Bears have given up an average of four touchdowns the past three games and rank among the worst teams statistically against the run and pass.
“We haven’t been the Monsters of the Midway, playing defensive football,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
The defending division champions have overcome their troubles on defense thanks to some playmakers on offense.
Matt Forte ran for 205 yards last week, matching Walter Payton and Gale Sayers for the franchise’s second-best day on the ground, and his 634 yards from scrimmage trails only New England receiver Wes Welker by a yard.
Forte’s ability to make plays in the passing game might slow down Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh-led aggressive front that will want to get after Jay Cutler.
“He is one of the best screen runners in the NFL and they’ve had success against us and have had success against a lot of opponents on screens,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “That’s a big part of what they do on offense.”
Devin Hester’s 48-game reception streak was snapped against the Panthers, but he more than made up for it with a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown that was the 11th of his career and broke Eric Metcalf’s NFL record.
“He’s one of the best of all time as a returner,” Schwartz said. “We haven’t played our best at coverage units and last week in particular.”
The Lions also set a league record last week.
They became the first NFL team to come back and win two straight games after trailing by at least 20 points, coming back from a 27-3 deficit in the third quarter at Dallas following a second-half rally from a 20-0 hole at Minnesota.
Dating to last year’s loss to the Bears — Detroit’s sixth straight in the series — the once-lowly Lions have won eight straight regular season games for the longest active streak in the league.
“They’re confident,” Cutler said. “They’re finding ways to win football games, which is big.”
Johnson has had a lot to do with that. A former teammate, Bears Roy Williams, gave Johnson the nickname of ‘Megatron,’ after Detroit drafted him No. 2 overall in 2007.
“He’s about 9-foot-3 and he’s fast as all get out,” Williams said. “To be that big and have the strongest hands I’ve ever seen. … that guy is a freak of nature. Megatron. It just kind of came out.”
The Associated Press