ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The slumping Detroit Lions are rallying around Calvin Johnson, hoping he breaks Jerry Rice's NFL record for yards receiving in a season.
"It's definitely something that I take joy in that my teammates are right behind me on this thing," Johnson said Thursday after catching footballs from a machine in a post-practice drill. "They want me to get it as much as I want to get it."
The Lions (4-9) don't have much else to root for this year, entering Sunday's game at Arizona (4-9) in a matchup of teams tied for the worst record in the NFC. Detroit has dropped five straight and will finish the season with a losing record one year after winning 10 games and breaking the team's 11-year postseason drought.
That leave Johnson's shot to make history a potential source of pride for the Lions.
"We have to hang our hat on something this year," Lions center Dominic Raiola said. "I think it would be awesome for him to do it. I'd love to be able to say I was on the team and helped him do it."
Despite often facing double- and triple-coverage and losing the other top three players at his position on the team, Johnson has a league-high 1,546 yards receiving. With three games left, he is 303 yards from breaking Rice's single-season mark of 1,848 yards receiving set in 1995 with the San Francisco 49ers.
"If it happens, that would be fantastic," Johnson said. "It's definitely something I'd love to have."
And, his teammates want him to have it.
Johnson's talents and humble ways helped him get a $132 million, eight-year contract in the offseason, entering the last season of the deal he got when Detroit drafted him out of Georgia Tech with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He is easy to root for.
"He's so down to earth," said tight end Tony Scheffler, one of several Lions to describe him in the exact same way this week. "It doesn't matter if you're the janitor or Jim Schwartz, he says hi and bye when you enter and leave the room.
"I've seen him before and after he got paid, and nothing has changed. He's just a great human being and I think he's the best player in the NFL, which is a pretty remarkable combination."
Johnson combines size, strength, speed, hands and relentless work ethic in a way few can. The 6-foot-5, 236-pound receiver dubbed Megatron has run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, has done a 45-inch vertical leap and works out constantly, as if his job is in jeopardy.
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