"Yeah, everybody thought we had something going in camp," recalled Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson. "Everybody was on the same page. Good karma."
How does 4-0 turn into 0-11?
The nation gets the chance to see firsthand when Tennessee (10-1) plays at Detroit in the 69th edition of this franchises' Thanksgiving Day game tradition. They will see the Lions continue their trek toward 0-16 ruin -- or maybe, just maybe, shockingly see the Lions plug the damn, bandage the bleeding.
Win a game.
Count on Johnson to do his part.
This amazing player can be likened to a rose in a bed of weeds.
He was the second pick of the draft in 2007 and has turned a modest rookie year (48 catches, 756 receiving yards) into a blossoming second stint (already 48 catches, 905 receiving yards). His receiving touchdowns have grown from four to eight. His average yards per catch from 15.8 to 18.9. His long grab from 49 to 96.
Because the Lions have been so pitiful, this is the only shot for the team to be featured in a nationally televised game. It is the only chance in 2008 for the nation to catch a lengthy glimpse of, and appreciate, this artist.
He's 6-feet-5 inches and 239 pounds of graceful, acrobatic, rare ability at receiver. As humble as he is smart. As hurt and as disappointed as you can imagine.
"I don't go out too much," Johnson said. "The last few Sundays our games have been blacked out in Detroit. We've got good fans, but nobody wants to see you when you struggle. They want to see winners.
"I don't think we are going to talk too much about this game. But we are not going to lie down. We will go and fight. It's another opportunity. Another opportunity to go out and get a win. Nobody wants to be a winless team. For me, it is a pride thing. Nobody here wants to quit. But starting from Day 1 with the season, our execution wasn't there. Same story every week."
Johnson, bless him, had the patience to recall what he could about each rotten, reeking defeat:
» Lost 31-13 at San Francisco: "One as a whole where we didn't play well. No breaks at all. Our worst game of the year."
And through all of that misery, Johnson has managed to rank fifth in NFL receptions and second in touchdown catches. No NFL receiver among the top 10 in receiving yards averages more per catch than Johnson.
Doug Williams, a Tampa Bay personnel executive, watched Johnson closely in Detroit last Sunday during the Buccaneers' victory.
Williams said: "When you look around this league, there are no Calvin Johnsons. There is only oneCalvin Johnson. Look at this guy -- lanky, long, strong, can fly, jumps, an athlete. Most receivers have a deficiency or two. Not him. In this league you could go to just about any team and they would trade you their two starting receivers for this one guy. Not very often does a 6-5 receiver like this come along."
Scouts were saying some of these things about Johnson before he was drafted. Clean. That was the word often used about his game on the field, his persona off it.
And if defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is not effectively blocked, Culpepper will not have time to find Johnson. Consider that Johnson, despite his successes this season, has yet to enjoy double-digit receptions in a game.
"I've been working on details," Johnson said. "I've been learning to focus more when I'm tired. I'm not happy, but I'm trying to be productive and contribute what I can. All could change so fast for us. The NFL turns over quickly. I never want to let anyone here down. I'm going to give it my all. But we just haven't been able to translate hard work into Sundays."
He is hoping they can translate it into Thursday.