ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Matthew Stafford tried to go there two plays earlier on first down early in the third quarter, finding Calvin Johnson in single coverage in the end zone. He threw the ball up, but it hit off Johnson’s leaping hands and he couldn’t come down with it.
Two plays later, he had an even better look -- and it resulted in a touchdown, the one that really broke open Detroit’s 40-10 Thanksgiving Day win against Green Bay.
The Lions went to Johnson 10 times Thursday and this was, by far, the most open he had been all game long.
It happened because of a pretty good play call by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who saw an opening in the defense right in the middle of the field.
Before the play, a third-and-10 from the Green Bay 20-yard line, Detroit lined up in shotgun with three wide receivers and a single back, Joique Bell, to the right of Stafford in the backfield. Kris Durham was out wide to the left with Nate Burleson in the slot to the left. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew was lined up -- with his hand on the ground -- on the right side of the formation.
Johnson was also on the right side of the formation just beyond the numbers. Before the snap, Johnson motioned inside the numbers, a few feet from Pettigrew on the right side. With the design of the play and the formation, this appeared key.
Green Bay had two rushers with hands on the ground and everyone else standing up. When the ball was snapped, the Packers rushed five players at Stafford, so he backpedaled as the routes took shape.
“The way we run the routes, it’s kind of almost a switch-release with him and Grew,” receiver Kris Durham said. “The way they release, they almost switch. It’s basically to cause traffic to free him up.
“That’s what happens, so he was able to get across.”
When the ball was snapped, linebacker Andy Mulumba cut across the field and looked like he might be picking up Johnson, who was crossing the field three yards beyond the line of scrimmage. At the same time, Pettigrew ended up running a deep route, drawing multiple defenders.
Cornerback Sam Shields, who initially lined up on Johnson on the play, also dropped deep as free safety M.D. Jennings stepped up in coverage. For a moment, it appeared as if the route either froze Jennings or he slipped as Johnson was cutting across the middle.
It left him wide open.
“Just zoned it off,” Johnson said. “Saw some space and tried to get across the field to the open space.”
He had a lot of it.
As Johnson ran the route, Stafford moved with him to the left while backpedaling. He threw the ball to him and Johnson was wide open for the reception before turning upfield.
Johnson wasn't the only open option. Trailing a bit behind him was Bell, who was also open had Johnson been covered up by either Mulumba or Jennings.
“Calvin’s a tough look for a D-end dropping, so nobody really had CJ,” Stafford said. “Had to buy a little bit of extra time. Offensive line did a great job of keeping it clean in front of me.
“Just moved left a little bit and throw it to him, and then he does what he does.”
When Johnson caught the ball and went upfield, Green Bay had two defenders converging on him. At the 5-yard line, Johnson lowers his shoulder into safety Morgan Burnett, who was trying to tackle him.
Burnett bounced off of him, and cornerback Tramon Williams grabbed at Johnson’s back, but couldn’t bring him down as he crossed the goal-line.
The play gave Detroit a 24-10 lead and control of the game for the first time.