Chasing history
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Last season, Drew Brees and Rob Gronkowski proved that no record in today's NFL is safe.

Brees tore down Dan Marino's single-season passing mark by throwing for 5,476 yards while Gronkowski leapt past Kellen Winslow for the most receiving yards ever by an NFL tight end (1,327).

Now it's Calvin Johnson's turn to rewrite the record books.

With four games left on the schedule, Johnson is on the cusp of breaking Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yards record, a mark that has stood since 1995.

As it stands now, Johnson must average 105 yards per game the rest of the way to tie Rice's record. That may sound like a tall order but remember, Johnson isn't your typical NFL wide receiver. He's Megatron.

Johnson had fantasy owners concerned after a pair of rough outings against Chicago (three catches, 34 yards) and Seattle (three grabs, 46 yards) in Weeks 7 and 8 but now that seems like ancient history.

The Detroit receiver has totaled 790 receiving yards in his last five contests for an average of 158 yards per game. He's had at least 129 yards in all five outings and has found the end zone in each of his last four games after enduring a five-game touchdown drought between Weeks 4 through 9.

Johnson actually flirted with Rice's record last season en route to 1,681 yards, the highest yardage total of his career and the seventh most receiving yards for a single season in NFL history.

Though Johnson still has plenty of work to do if he hopes to break the record, he's well ahead of where Rice was at this point in the season. Rice was at 1,253 yards through his first 12 games in 1995 while Johnson sits at 1,428 yards with four games to go.

Rice caught fire at the end of the season, hauling in a masterful 595 yards in his final four appearances. The San Francisco wideout devastated the Vikings in Week 15 of that season, going off for 289 yards (the sixth-highest single game yardage total in NFL history) on 14 catches. The next week, Rice blew up again for 153 yards on 12 receptions in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He also chipped in with the first and only touchdown pass of his career, a 41-yard strike to wide receiver J.J. Stokes. Overall, Rice averaged 187.7 receiving yards per contest in his final three games of the season.

St. Louis Rams receiver Isaac Bruce witnessed a similar late season charge when he posted the second-most receiving yards in league history during that same 1995 campaign. Believe it or not, Bruce was actually 45 yards ahead of Rice after 12 games. Rice prevailed in the end but Bruce was still plenty productive down the stretch. He reeled in 120.8 yards per game during the final four weeks of the season including a monstrous 15 catch, 210 yard effort in a season-ending loss to the Dolphins.

History suggests that Johnson is up for the challenge. Megatron went off for 589 yards in his last four games of the 2011 regular season (average of 147.3 yards per game), so he's no stranger to late-season runs. Johnson was especially productive in the season finale, exploding for a career-high 244 yards in a shootout loss to the Packers. He also had 14 receptions for 214 yards two weeks before that against the Raiders.

In order to determine how feasible Johnson's pursuit is, it's important to look at Detroit's remaining schedule. Of the team's four remaining opponents, the most favorable matchup for Johnson is clearly Sunday's tilt in Green Bay. Johnson has throttled the Packers recently (387 yards in his last two games against them) and is averaging 121.5 yards per game at Lambeau Field for his career.

Week 15's game in Arizona should be more difficult as the Cardinals are third in the NFL against the pass. Still, this is a squad that has lost eight in a row and is reeling in every way. Even the secondary has come undone recently as Chris Givens and Roddy White have gauged the Cardinals for 100-yard games in two of the last three weeks. It will be interesting to see how All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson handles Johnson's height advantage (6-foot-5 versus 6-foot) when they face each other.

Atlanta in Week 16 is another wild card. The Falcons have only allowed three receivers to rack up 100 yards against them this season (Jimmy Graham, Denarius Moore and Lance Moore) yet they're only ranked 15th against the pass. Atlanta plays a "bend but don't break" style of defense with an emphasis on forcing turnovers (they intercepted Drew Brees five times last week and Peyton Manning three times in one quarter earlier in the season). This matchup is hit or miss.

The Lions face another daunting opponent in Week 17 (this one won't affect fantasy owners) when they take on the Bears' seventh-ranked passing defense. Johnson stumbled to just three catches for 34 yards against them in Week 7 but that was a different team than the Chicago squad he'll be facing in Week 17.

The Bears are banged up (injuries to Brian Urlacher and NFL interception leader Tim Jennings) and don't seem to have any momentum right now. They've lost three of four and have been picked apart by inexperienced quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick in recent weeks.

It won't be easy, but then again, nothing that's worthwhile ever is. All eyes will be on No. 81 as Johnson gets closer and closer to 1,848.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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