Our investigation is complete. Yes, it's true. Calvin Johnson did not have a touchdown reception in the Detroit Lions' 25-19 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, his first scoreless game of the 2011 season.
We will give him a pass, especially after catching an NFL record nine touchdowns in the Lions' first five games. For those interested, Johnson remains on pace to challenge the NFL record for touchdown reception in a season, as the chart shows.
So what happened Sunday against the 49ers? According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lions didn't target him on a single pass in the end zone after doing so nine times in their first five games, the second-highest total in the NFL over that span. And only one of the nine passes they threw his way came in the red zone.
First, we should be reasonable in our expectations. The pace Johnson set early this season was historic and, quite frankly, impossible to maintain. Randy Moss went three games without a touchdown in his record-breaking 2007 campaign, and we should be careful not to consider it a failure for Johnson to go scoreless.
He was an afterthought Sunday because, frankly, the 49ers made sure of it. Watching the game live at Ford Field, it was quite obvious the 49ers were not going to give him an easy opportunity in single coverage for one of his patented jump balls.
I can't account for every play on the Lions' four trips to the red zone, but he routinely faced a second and sometimes third defender near the end zone. Lions receiver Nate Burleson told reporters the 49ers were "masters of bracketology," meaning they consistently bracketed Johnson with multiple defenders.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford found Burleson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew for touchdowns on two of the red zone trips, but the Lions settled for short field goals on the other two. Coach Jim Schwartz lamented one deep pass that Stafford threw out of bounds in the direction of Johnson, but otherwise said: "There were a lot of other ones where there was probably a better place to go with the ball."
Schwartz added: "We want to get the ball to Calvin. We were moving him around a lot. A couple of those passes where he was getting glances inside of a corner, he's playing a position that he normally doesn't play. [Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan] was moving him around a lot to try and get him open. … We all need to do a better job of getting open and winning one-on-ones when teams take that approach with Calvin."