After a week of questions about his limited production of late, Calvin Johnson lifted Detroit's offense with an emphatic reminder that he's still one of the game's most dynamic players.
Johnson caught 11 passes for 146 yards with a pair of first-half touchdowns, and the Lions boosted their postseason hopes with a 34-17 victory over the Chicago Bears on Thursday. Johnson had been held under 60 yards in two of three games since returning from an ankle injury, and there were rumblings that the 29-year-old receiver was slowing down, but he quieted a lot of those concerns with perhaps his best game of the season.
“Guys still believe in what we got going here,” Johnson said. “We had a good week of practice — it was a very short week, but we were very detailed in what we did on the field, coaches taking care of us. It's our part to come out here and do our job on the field.”
After losing at Arizona and New England and falling out of first place in the NFC North, the Lions (8-4) spotted Chicago a 14-3 first-quarter lead before rallying with relative ease in the second. Detroit finished with a season-high 474 yards in its highest-scoring game since a 35-14 victory over the New York Giants in its opener.
Joique Bell ran for two touchdowns for the Lions, and Jay Cutler threw two TD passes for Chicago (5-7). Detroit's Matthew Stafford went 34 of 45 for 390 yards with the two touchdown passes to Johnson.
The Lions have now won back-to-back games on Thanksgiving after losing their previous nine. They beat Green Bay 40-10 last year.
That victory over the Packers was Detroit's only win in its final seven games last season as the Lions frittered away a playoff spot. They are again in mix for the postseason this year, and Thursday's game was their first of three in a row at home — all against teams with losing records.
“Every single week there's a new challenge. We have a new one next week,” Lions Coach Jim Caldwell said. “The minute you get comfortable at any stage in our league you're going to have problems.”
Detroit came in with the league's top-ranked run defense, and Chicago barely even tried to test it. Matt Forte was a non-factor on the ground, finishing with 6 yards on five carries. Cutler went 31 of 48 for 280 yards with two fourth-quarter interceptions.
Chicago's imbalanced game plan came only a few days after New England relied heavily on the pass in its victory over the Lions last weekend.
“I think they look at the numbers and make an assessment of what they think they can do,” Caldwell said. “Not everybody looks at it the same way, but the last couple weeks it's been that way.”
The Bears opened the scoring on Cutler's 10-yard scoring pass to Alshon Jeffery, and they scored again after Jared Allen sacked Stafford, forced a fumble and recovered it at the Detroit 5. Cutler's 6-yard scoring pass to Jeffery made it 14-3 with 3:35 remaining in the first quarter.
Stafford, however, was brilliant in the second. Johnson made a leaping catch for a 25-yard touchdown, holding on despite a hit from defensive back Kyle Fuller. That was the first time Detroit had reached the end zone since Nov. 9 against Miami — and a sign that the Lions were shaking off some of the problems with their passing game.
“I don't know that they really did anything that we didn't expect, although they didn't have the drops that we've seen on film, or make the other mistakes that shut down offenses,” Bears Coach Marc Trestman said. “We were the ones that had those, especially penalties that took us out of good positions.”
Bell put the Lions ahead with a 1-yard scoring run on fourth down — leaping toward the goal line and extending the ball just far enough for a touchdown. Stafford's 6-yard touchdown pass to Johnson made it 24-14 with 24 seconds left in the half.
Stafford went 22 of 26 for 275 yards in the first half, and Johnson set a record as the fastest to 10,000 yards receiving, surpassing that milestone in the second quarter of his 115th game.
Bell's 1-yard run in the fourth was the only touchdown of the second half.