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Why Calvin Johnson was not on the field defending the Packers' Hail Mary

DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions have a 6-foot-5, jump-through-the-roof man on their roster with good hands and a penchant for grabbing the ball at the highest point.

Calvin Johnson, though, sat on the sideline when Green Bay successfully converted a Hail Mary late Thursday night to beat the Lions 27-23.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell explained his decision in a somewhat baffling way -- that the Lions were preparing for a bunch of pitches and tosses instead of a potential Hail Mary, even though the Packers’ lateral plan had failed the play before.

“In that situation, we have a couple of different things that we do,” Caldwell said. “That was one where you’re kind of looking for more that pass-back-and-forth kind of thing because of the range. He ran around there so long, moved up, gave himself a chance to get into the end zone.

“We had plenty of guys back there, we had plenty of guys. We just didn’t make the play. They did.”

The Lions didn’t make the play -- and they didn’t have their best personnel on the field for it, either. Johnson could only watch from the bench. Same with tight end Eric Ebron -- another tall, rangy, lanky, athletic player who could knock the ball down in a Hail Mary situation.

“I know Calvin practices it a lot, but that’s not my call,” Ebron said. “I have no say in that. All I know is we practice it.”

Johnson has been on the field for three defensive snaps during his NFL career -- in the first week of the 2011 season against Tampa Bay, in Week 3 of 2013 against Washington, and last season, in Week 15, against Minnesota.

Against the Bucs in 2011, the Lions faced a bunch of laterals that eventually failed on the final play in a 27-20 win. In 2013, Detroit defended a Hail Mary from Washington in a 27-20 win. Last season there was no Hail Mary or lateral play against the Vikings, but Johnson did see one defensive snap on the second-to-last play of the game when Detroit was defending against a Hail Mary or lateral situation.