DETROIT — Calvin Johnson spun 180 degrees, sidestepped a crowd, and vanished.
The NFL’s best receiver delivered the proverbial stiff-arm Sunday to media assembled near his locker.
Following an afternoon in which he repeatedly increased the degree of difficulty on his acrobatic catches, Johnson left others to explain Detroit’s 27-24 home loss to Cincinnati.
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Rookie punter Sam Martin needed to answer for an errant kick that set up Cincinnati’s winning drive. Cornerback Chris Houston needed to field inquiries about his nasty habit of biting on double moves, something Houston was happy to discuss.
“I’m getting these moves every week,” said Houston, who lost sight of receiver A.J. Green on an 82-yard strike for an early 7-0 deficit. “I put this loss on me, not anybody else.”
Two former Ohio State Buckeyes discussed their brief yet profound roles in the visitor’s locker room. Dane Sanzenbacher, the Toledo product who starred at Central Catholic, pulled in his only catch of the game at a crucial time, bringing the Bengals seven yards closer to victory in a matchup of teams battling to remain atop their respective divisions. Two plays later kicker Mike Nugent delivered a winning 54-yard field goal as time expired.
This clash of 4-2 teams entering the day featured a laundry list of injuries and zero turnovers. It had 721 yards and six touchdowns through the air compared to 134 yards and zero scores on the ground.
And it had a whole lot of Johnson, whose record-breaking day included two second-half touchdowns, one in which he swiveled his body several directions before making the grab and another that would register a 10 of 10 by even the crustiest of judges.
After adhering to quarterback Matthew Stafford’s orders to break his route and head downfield, the 6-foot-5 Johnson planted in the end zone and leaped amid a sea of Bengals to make a stunning catch. Two defenders stood in front of Johnson on the 50-yard strike. One stood behind. The man nicknamed Megatron was simply too freakish for any of them.
“I didn’t get to see a whole lot of it,” said Stafford, who was walloped after releasing the ball. “I saw the very end of it, and it was one of the best catches I have ever seen.”
It knotted the score at 24-24 with 11:59 to go. Johnson launched deeper into the franchise record book, which he has rewritten in the seven seasons since the Lions drafted him second overall in 2007. His 35th 100-yard game broke a tie with Herman Moore.
“He’s definitely the best receiver in the league, in my opinion,” Lions receiver Ryan Broyles said. “Whenever the ball comes to him you expect him to make the play.”
Johnson (nine catches, 155 yards) showed no ill effects of a knee injury that sidelined him two weeks ago at Green Bay.
The only recourse for stopping Johnson was to get physical, a tactic Cincinnati employed without penalty to slow Detroit’s final series.
Adam Jones, playing in place of Leon Hall who sustained an Achilles injury, yanked Johnson to the turf on second down from Detroit’s 23. Stafford threw incomplete in the vicinity where Johnson was headed. A play later Stafford, confronting a blitzing Reggie Nelson, got rid of the ball.
“That guy was, to say the least, pretty sticky in coverage,” Stafford said of Jones.
Stafford (28 of 51, 357 yards, 3 TDs) snapped Cincinnati’s streak of 20 consecutive games without surrendering 300 yards passing.
Martin’s punt traveled just 28 yards before landing out of bounds, setting up Cincinnati at midfield with 26 seconds to go.
“A situation like that you’re typically expecting a heavy rush,” Martin said. “I rushed myself trying to get it off and prevent a block. I just pulled it.”
Andy Dalton (24 of 34, 372 yards, 3 TDs) checked off to Sanzenbacher for seven yards on first down before picking up eight more with a dump off to fullback Giovani Bernard. That put Nugent in position to hit from 54 yards — one yard shy of his career-long. Nugent earlier made from 48 and missed from 47.
The Bengals, who led by as many as 11 in the second half, won for the third straight week following a Sept. 29 loss at Cleveland.
“I hope that’s not my moment,” said Sanzenbacher, who was active for the fifth game in a row. “It’s definitely one of those steps along the way.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.