Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions: Megatron's Record Overshadows Top NFC Team

Mike FosterCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2012

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 22:  Asante Samuel #22 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts after a fourth quarter interception next to Thomas DeCoud #28 while playing the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 22, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. Atlanta won the game 31-18. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Saturday marked more than just an early Christmas present from the producers of ESPN's Monday Night Football. 

There is no doubt that the headline story from Saturday night's game between the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions was the record-breaking performance by The Motor City's star receiver, Calvin Johnson."Megatron" caught 11 passes in the contest for 225 yards to pass the greatest receiver in NFL history for receiving yards in a season.

Johnson now has 1,892 yards on the year. Jerry Rice's now-defunct record was at 1,848. The thought of him doing the unthinkable and getting to 2,000 by snagging 108 yards in his final regular-season game seems like a walk in the park. 

I've thought since the day Calvin Johnson stepped on an NFL field that a healthy career would mean him going down as the greatest receiver to ever play in the league. You can't argue against that type of speed, stride and wingspan from a guy that big and that intelligent. 

Here's me, an Atlanta Falcons fan since I was old enough to put on my own pants, letting one of the best football players of my generation have his time in the spotlight, for Calvin was probably too humble in a 31-18 loss on Saturday night. The Lions are now just 4-11 on the season, and their late-year game against the Atlanta Falcons was scheduled for prime time because it was supposed to have had serious playoff implications.

The reason I make such a note of the fact Johnson's performance can take up the first three paragraphs of an article is the fact his record-breaking game helped illustrate the microcosm of what Atlanta's season has been to this point—an afterthought.

Not only did the Atlanta Falcons win and clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for just the third time in team history, but they are now a win away from tying the 1998 team for the best record in team history at 14-2.

That 1998 team went on to play against the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. While Falcons fans have been talking of a rematch of that game for the past few weeks, the nation has been finding excuses to talk about everything but Atlanta.

I've griped and griped about the media's irritating habits. I said this week that an Atlanta win on national television, for the fourth time this year, would finally do the trick. 

Atlanta is, in fact, now 4-0 on national television this season. And, much of the nation probably tuned in to the Falcons more than usual when they stomped the New York Giants 34-0 last Sunday. 

Yet, here we are headlining the night with talk about the best receiver in football, and nothing but that. But, for the first time this season, I feel the direction of attention is fair: I know greatness when I see it.

What got lost in the shuffle, nevertheless, was the fact Matt Ryan was again outstanding Saturday night, as he claimed a record of his own: With his four touchdowns against the Lions defense, he tied Steve Bartkowski for the franchise record for passing scores in a season at 31. Ryan also broke the team's single-season passing yards record last week.

Ryan has gone 48-of-60 passing for 549 yards and seven touchdowns in the past two games, and if there is anything Ryan has proven in the past two weeks, it's that he finally has become a phenomenal deep-ball thrower.

This is the one area of Ryan's game that always bothered me so much in his first four seasons. With his confidence going over the top, I feel like this Falcons offense is firing on all cylinders with the playoffs and the road to the Super Bowl coming down I-75.

To say he's back in the MVP discussion might be a stretch, but there's no doubt he and the offense are catching fire at the right time, and that's a story that is going to get flushed down the toilet thanks to the accolades of No. 81 in Honolulu Blue.

What should also be mentioned (here comes the mob with flaming torches) is that Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan kept the exotic blitzes that had been trademarked by Atlanta all season in his pocket against the Lions. Why? Probably to prevent tape for opposing playoff teams. Smart move on Nolan's part.

To say that contributed to the fact Calvin Johnson saw vanilla coverage for most of the contest would not be wrong, folks. I'm not saying Calvin's season has not been amazing. By golly, has it ever?

But the Falcons went into Detroit against Matthew Stafford and the game's best receiver with a passing-camp defense and came out allowing just 16 points and zero touchdown passes.

If we want to argue that the formula for a Super Bowl team is a dominant passing attack led by an MVP quarterback, it's safe to say the Falcons, who have allowed the least amount of touchdown passes of any NFL team in 2012, have the defense to complement.

Stafford threw for 443 yards against them, and Johnson had his day, but that was about the only thing Atlanta gave the Lions all game. It was clear Atlanta wasn't very concerned with making Johnson's record night miserable. 

My point is, Johnson took the headlines on Saturday night. How ironic is it that the Falcons could win four nationally televised games and still be seen as secondary? 

But, everyone involved with the Atlanta Falcons organization and the fanbase knows this team is getting hot. This team has an offense that is a headache-and-a-half to game-plan against. This defense is forcing turnovers at will.

The Atlanta Falcons are 13-2 and built to be a Super Bowl-winning team. It just may take until they hoist a trophy for anyone outside of Atlanta to realize it.

I'd advise we just accept that fact and give Calvin Johnson his day in the spotlight. After all, the man who is in my opinion the best receiver to ever play the game does hail from the great city of Atlanta.