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Calvin Johnson's catch streak nearly ended Sunday and he knew it

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Calvin Johnson knew. Everyone, he figures, knew.

Minutes were ticking down Sunday afternoon in St. Louis, and Johnson, who had a catch in every game he has played in throughout his career, was still without one. Nine minutes turned to eight. Eight turned to six. Six turned to four and Johnson still had not caught a ball.

His streak, now spanning 132 games since he caught his one reception with 2:25 left, remained intact. But it was closer than it has ever been for the Detroit Lions wide receiver. So he was aware he had yet to pull in a reception.

"Yeah, no doubt about it," Johnson said. "You definitely think about it. But the biggest thing is just getting in the end zone, helping your team win. If we're winning at the time, it's not that big of a deal. But you definitely, you don't want to go through a game not catching a ball, period. Especially being a receiver."

The Lions didn't win Sunday, though, as the offense sputtered and stalled before the final few minutes of the game in a 21-14 loss to the Rams. And Johnson, who was targeted five times, had two passes to him overthrown, one intercepted, one dropped by him and his one catch.

It's a somewhat different feeling for him to not be the focal point of a Lions offense that has used him so much over the past eight-plus seasons. He has turned into the Lions' No. 1 target, so when he goes for stretches without getting any action, he has to do other things to keep himself involved.

That's what he did Sunday.

"Just got to try to keep things, keeping your mind in the game," Johnson said. "You know, staying active, whether it's trying to get a big block here or there, just to really stay in the flow of the game. That's the biggest part for a receiver -- just getting into the flow of the game."

Johnson said when he doesn't get into the flow of the game and when he isn't catching passes and getting his hands on the ball, "you kind of feel like you're maybe just lost in the game plan sometimes."

He said he hasn't found it more difficult to get open this year compared to previous seasons when he was the game's preeminent deep threat and a complete mismatch for opposing defenses. He has been used less on deep routes this season -- his yards per reception (13.82) and air yards per target (12.92) are the lowest of his career -- but he's on pace for his most targets since 2013 and his most routes run since 2012, the year he set the single-season receiving record.

And that's why it was a bit surprising Johnson was still without a catch as Sunday wound down. Quarterback Matthew Stafford said there was not a concerted effort to make sure Johnson's streak was extended late in Sunday's game, but after watching the film, there were times Stafford felt he could have looked to his top receiver a bit more often.

Stafford said he hasn't noticed it has been harder to get the ball to Johnson this season, but there are times teams will take him mostly out of the offense -- or try to -- even though Stafford and Johnson have seen almost every conceivable defense throughout their six-plus seasons together.

"Some teams want to, the No. 1 thing is just, 'Don't let 81 catch the ball,' " Stafford said. "And other teams want to play it straight up and are more, are who they are.

"So we'll see, it's kind of a week-in and week-out thing."

The Lions, though, are banking that Johnson won't be in that type of situation again the rest of the season, where the time is ticking down and the best offensive option on Detroit has essentially been taken out of the game.

Because for Johnson, the chances should still be there, no matter what teams are doing to try and take him away. And even though he knew about the streak and that it could end, he didn't feel more pressure to keep it going.

He just wanted to make a play.

"It wasn't pressure," Johnson said. "I just figured, you know, when I get the opportunity, I got to make it happen."