Why Jerry Rice's Record Season Was More Impressive Than Calvin Johnson's

Chris Hummer@chris_hummerAnalyst IDecember 22, 2012

Dec 22, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) during the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson is now the NFL's single-season record-holder for receiving yards, eclipsing the greatest wideout of all time, Jerry Rice, in the process.

However, Johnson's record-setting season still isn't as impressive as Rice's magical 1995 campaign when he reeled in 1,848 yards.

Sure, Johnson accomplished the feat in an almost-unbelievable 15 games—he passed Rice with an 11-catch, 225-yard performance against the Falcons in Week 16—but Rice's record came during a time when the pass wasn't a team's go-to option.

Actually, during Rice's record-setting season, the passing game as we know it was just coming into fruition. Teams weren't throwing the ball 40-plus times a game like the Lions have all season.

Matthew Stafford has attempted 685 passes so far this season. The record for pass attempts was set by Drew Bledsoe in 1994. He attempted 691 passes.

When Rice played, the running game was still king. The 49ers of the '90s were instrumental in changing that.

Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Steve Young and, of course, Jerry Rice revolutionized the passing game. They showed that a high-flying, throw-first attack could be successful. Sure, it helped that they had Rice and a pair of Hall of Fame QBs on their side—some of the most gifted players in NFL history.

Johnson, in his defense, may be changing the game in his own right. But that has more to do with his unbelievable 6'5", 236-pound frame coupled with his 4.32 40 time than any technical skill in which he excels.

Johnson is just bigger and stronger than any corner in the game, and his size allows him to have his way with opposing secondaries.

Rice, while no slouch as an athlete, didn't have that benefit. Instead, he dominated because of his pristine route-running ability and knack for finding the ball.

Plus, Rice found his success in a time when defenders were allowed to rough up the offensive players. Flags for pass interference weren't nearly as frequent, and quarterbacks weren't treated like fine china.

That's opposed to now, when a defender can brush a wideout and receive a 15-yard flag. Johnson just has the added benefit of playing in a period in which offense is significantly favored. 

But the most impressive part of Rice's season was the timing of it. His record-breaking year came in the middle of a playoff race, as the 49ers fought to defend their 1994 NFL title.

There's a certain pressure that comes in a playoff race, and it makes it all the more impressive that Rice gained each and every one of his yards in crunch time.

Johnson and the Lions, on the other hand, are nowhere close to entering the playoffs. They've been nothing short of a disappointment this season with just four wins and sit in the cellar of the NFC North.

This standing has allowed the Lions to push for Johnson to gain the record. Stafford is chucking the ball at a record-breaking rate, hoping to salvage a positive nugget out of a disappointing campaign.

Johnson has been the team's one and only bright spot. But the great ones are supposed to lift their teams higher, and the Lions have yet to even win a playoff game in Johnson's time in Detroit.

Rice had no such issues. The 49ers won three Super Bowls with him on the outside.

Johnson has been nothing short of spectacular in 2012. He's been an unstoppable force and is the start of a new breed in the NFL.

However, as impressive as Johnson has been, his season is still not as impressive as what Rice did in 1995.

Rice's yards didn't come on garbage-time throws, nor did they come as a part of terrible team. He did it during a playoff race in a league that had yet to enter the golden age of passing.

Johnson is great, but Rice's season is still the greatest.