Johnson didn't really need to be part of the Detroit Lions' latest comeback win to prove that. But he did his part Sunday with two touchdown catches in the fourth quarter as Detroit stunned the Dallas Cowboys 34-30 in what might be the most dramatic game of an entertaining first quarter of the season.
Of course, critics will point directly at Dallas quarterback Tony Romo(notes) as the key figure in this game since he threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Romo reverted to the chaotic form that has made him a pi ñata in Dallas. Yeah, he can be fun at times, such as the previous two weeks when he played through a broken rib and led the Cowboys to two victories, but on Sunday he turned a 27-3 blowout in the third quarter into a 27-17 competitive game.
[ Related: Tony Romo brushes off Jerry Jones after loss ]
That allowed Johnson and the Lions to do the rest. In the fourth quarter, Johnson did some stuff that made it look like he was playing against children. Need a big touchdown against three guys sitting in zone coverage? Just fire it up to Johnson. Need a game-clinching touchdown against Dallas' best cornerback? No worries, just throw it to Johnson.
He tied Carter's NFL record with his fourth straight game with two TD catches. He is living up to his Megatron nickname and his talents resemble the creation of someone's cartoon imagination.
And that's where Carter, a strong Hall of Fame candidate who caught 1,101 passes and 130 touchdowns in his career, got it all wrong before this season when he left Johnson off a list of the NFL's elite receivers. Carter stopped at six, not only leaving Johnson off, but then dissing Johnson with one slight after another. There was Carter's claim that Johnson is "very, very good at 'Madden' and 'Tecmo Bowl' or whatever they're playing now. But on film, when I watch film, and I break down the film, he's not to the point of these guys yet. That doesn't mean he can't play. He just not there yet."
Carter went on to say: "We're trying to determine greatness and impact on the NFL game. Calvin Johnson, you don't have to double-team him to take him out of the game."
Anyone who saw the highlight of Johnson's first touchdown against Dallas will be amused by that "double-team" remark. Dallas had three defenders around Johnson on his 23-yard scoring catch. He made it look easy.
In fairness to Carter, he is looking at the technical side of the game. Johnson is not a great route-runner. He doesn't do the finer things that most mortals, like Carter himself, have to do.
So what? Johnson isn't your normal receiver. He is one of those rare players who overwhelms opponents. He's a guy you can't draw up conventional X's and O's for. He is like Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh(notes) and, if he continues to develop, quarterback Matthew Stafford(notes).
Having players like that, combined with a good coach in Jim Schwartz and a strong collection of other players, is a reason why Detroit is now 4-0 and riding one big emotional wave this season.
On to this week's other winners and losers …
• I have long been a fan of Eli Manning's(notes) ability, but not the inconsistency of his play. However, the stoic Manning came up big with two touchdown passes in the New York Giants' fourth-quarter comeback over Arizona. Manning took heat when he compared himself to Tom Brady(notes) earlier this year, but he's not wrong about his raw ability. In many ways, Manning has more physical talent than either Brady or big brother Peyton. His problem has always been playing to that talent and Sunday was an example of doing little for three quarters and then putting it all together in the fourth.
• Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton(notes) gets a lot of credit for hanging tough in a game that looked like it was going to get ugly for him. Dalton threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and got hit constantly by the Bills. Dalton kept his cool to lead the team to 20 points in the second half, including scoring the game-tying touchdown himself.
• OK, I know the Eagles lost, but Michael Vick(notes), a week after making headlines with his complaints (and subsequent apology) about the officiating, came up with the right fix for what the real problem was with the Eagles' pass protection: He was a lot more decisive. Vick got rid of the ball faster in the passing game and took off running right away rather than dance around in the pocket trying to create a play. Fact is, Vick would be celebrating a victory and one of the best games of his career (416 yards passing) if not for an erratic kicker (don't you hate those guys when they're bad?). With this offensive line, Vick has to realize that he can't afford to play around in the pocket. Beyond that, with the playmakers Philadelphia has, Vick has to be willing to let other people make plays for him so he can survive the long haul.
[ Related: Frustrated Michael Vick: 'Over my dead body' ]
• Houston Texans running back Arian Foster(notes) was triumphant in his return to the starting lineup as he ran all over Pittsburgh, gaining 155 yards on 30 carries and scoring a touchdown. While many people like to think that backup Ben Tate(notes) is just as good as Foster, there are some significant differences. Tate is good, but Foster is special with his ability to catch the ball and his ability to accelerate after a cut. Tate is really good when he powers into the middle and hits a crease. If he has to stop and start, Tate is not nearly as effective. That's why the Texans' offense is better in the red zone.
• Speaking of the Texans, the pass rush continued to make progress as Houston sacked Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger(notes) five times, including two by former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams(notes). Some of this euphoria has to be tempered by the fact that Pittsburgh can't block the Golden Girls right now. But if Houston's defense is going to do anything, the line is going to have to generate the improvement. That secondary is still questionable.
• While Detroit's Johnson gets his deserved respect, give credit to Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant(notes) as well. Bryant showed up with two TD catches in the first half as the Cowboys built their big lead. While Johnson is a better player than Bryant right now, it might not be long before Bryant closes that gap. After Bryant's big third-down catch against Washington on Monday night and his Sunday performance, Bryant took huge steps forward this week to capitalize on his immense talent.
• Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton(notes) lost again, but he continues to make every game interesting, as he did against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. Right now, there is something mesmerizing about Newton and the way he plays. It's not always pretty, but it's always interesting.
• Having mentioned Vick's change of style, the same suggestion needs to go out to Roethlisberger, who is playing some of the worst football of his career right now. Through four games, Roethlisberger has nine turnovers, including four lost fumbles, and is on pace to throw more interceptions than touchdown passes for only the second time in his eight-year career. As mentioned before, the offensive line is awful right now. Roethlisberger is on pace to be sacked a career-high 56 times this season. But if that's the situation, he needs to do something to fix it. Getting rid of the ball sooner is the best answer.
[ Related: Big Ben spotted on crutches after Steelers' loss ]
• As noted last week, there is something seriously wrong with St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford(notes), who is not making progress. The Rams' offensive line is atrocious, but it's more than that. Bradford looks jittery and indecisive, even when he has time. While the Redskins' defense is better than most people thought it would be going into this season, it shouldn't be good enough to shut down the Rams in St. Louis. The Rams had running back Steven Jackson back for this game, which should have taken a little pressure off the passing game. This is a better offensive team than it has shown, even without wide receiver Danny Amendola(notes).
• Memo to Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley: The screaming at players on the sideline has to stop – now. It was interesting when you were a rookie head coach. Then you found out that it just caused resentment between you and players who knew you had never played in the NFL. While things calmed down last season with the playoff run, the edginess from this season is not good. Things go bad in a season, but don't make them worse by yelling when your people are already upset. That accomplishes nothing. Thankfully for Haley, quarterback Matt Cassel(notes) and the Chiefs, they rallied to beat the more woeful Vikings.
• OK, it's hard to get on a guy when he has a huge interception return for a touchdown, as Detroit cornerback Chris Houston(notes) did in the second half of the Lions' comeback win. However, Houston also had some of the softest coverage ever in the second quarter when he was burned for a 44-yard completion from Romo to Laurent Robinson(notes). That play, which set up a touchdown, was obvious and it was coming right at Houston. He made up for it, but you can't have mistakes like that.
• I've tried to defend Donovan McNabb(notes) in the past as a guy who's play hasn't gotten enough respect over the years. However, McNabb continues to do things guys his age shouldn't do. The latest example was the interception he threw in the second quarter against Kansas City. McNabb tried to hit running back Toby Gerhart(notes) underneath and fired a pass high off Gerhart's shoulder pads. The carom was subsequently intercepted. This kind of play is like something from Quarterbacking 101: Don't throw high to a running back if he's underneath the defense. First, running backs don't have a chance to adjust their hands quickly to high throws. Second, most running backs aren't great receivers. They might be good, but they're rarely great.
• Philadelphia running back Ronnie Brown(notes) is a really good dude, but that move to try to attempt a pass after he got stopped at the goal line in the first half was odd. That's the kind of panic play, which resulted in a drive-ending turnover, you'd expect from a much younger player.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: That a week after using Gerhart on a fourth-and-1 run, the Vikings used running back Adrian Peterson on a short-yardage play at a critical point midway through the fourth quarter at Kansas City. Even though Minnesota lost, Peterson picked up the first down and the Vikings scored a touchdown to pull within five points. As stated before, in critical moments, coaches need to stop being cute and let their best players do the work.
Loathed: The interception that Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell(notes) threw early in the second half against New England. Seriously, what was that throw? There wasn't a Raiders receiver within five yards of that throw. There wasn't even a Raiders receiver who was supposed to be within five yards of that throw.
Loved: Back to the Vikings for one second, but I have to give wide receiver Michael Jenkins(notes) credit for his touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Jenkins made a tough grab in traffic. Sure, he was in his usual spot by the sideline, but Jenkins battled for the ball in a more physical way than you might expect given his history.
Loathed: Again, tip your cap to the play of Vick this week even if the Eagles lost, but I still hate watching the Eagles' offensive line. This group is tragic and all you had to see was one play where the 49ers ran a simple weakside blitz and Navorro Bowman(notes), who recovered the aforementioned Ronnie Brown fumble, came clean for a hit on Vick as he tried to get rid of the ball. Eagles left guard Evan Mathis(notes) whiffed on the play, missing the blitz as he helped with a double-team block on an interior defensive lineman.
[ Related: Joe Buck lost at end of Cowboys-Lions ]
Loved: That San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith started to show a little composure this week after a grueling start to the season. Yeah, the 49ers got a lot of help to win that game at Philadelphia, but give Smith credit for helping guide the comeback with one of the better games of his career.
Loathed: Seeing Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson(notes) go down with a hamstring injury without getting hit. Johnson is as classy a player as it gets and he just happens to be one of the two or three best receivers in the game. Hopefully that injury isn't too serious.
Loved: Matthew Stafford's first of two touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson in the fourth quarter. Despite playing poorly for most of the game, Stafford still trusted his best weapon at a critical point, throwing the ball up high and letting Johnson do the rest. Even with three defenders in the area, Johnson is a beast.
Loathed: The ongoing love of going for it on fourth-and-long situations. Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio was the latest to fall prey to this as he went on fourth-and-6 from New Orleans' 38-yard line in the first quarter at home. The thinking was obvious: Del Rio anticipated a high-scoring game and felt he had to go for it. This is the kind of play that a team with little hope makes. Del Rio is basically telling his players that they're not good enough to compete. Worse, this ended up being a low-scoring game. Instead of giving the Saints a short field (they only had to drive 62 yards for their first TD), play the percentages a little more.
Loved: The fact that the Jacksonville grounds crew painted the arrows going the wrong way at Ever Bank Stadium. Instead of pointing toward the end zone, they were pointed toward midfield. It made for all sorts of great jokes about the wrong-way Jaguars.
[ Image: Yard markers point wrong way in Jacksonville ]
Loathed: I have made no secret of my appreciation for Buffalo coach Chan Gailey's ability to call plays. But I have to say that I hated his decision to run on second-and-1 in the early moments of the fourth quarter. Yeah, this was a time to run clock, but second-and-1 is still an attack down, not a short-yardage play. Play more aggressively.
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- Cris Carter