“We’ve got the coaches, we’ve got the players and, most importantly, we have the character we need,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s practice. “This team has everything it takes to win the Super Bowl.”
Johnson realizes winning it all would require a huge step forward for a franchise that has only one playoff victory since 1957, and a roster that threw away a golden chance for the NFC North title last season. Detroit started the season 6-3, and was competing with the Bears and Packers when their starting quarterbacks went down with injuries.
But the Lions went 1-6 down the stretch, blowing fourth-quarter leads in each of their last four games.
“We’re incredibly motivated after what happened last year,” Johnson said. “We know what we had in our grasp, but there were so many games down the stretch that we couldn’t finish. We learned from that, and we’re in a position now that we can win those games and get into the playoffs. Once you get in, anything can happen.”
Stafford agreed that the Lions are in the best spot of his career, even ahead of the 2011 team that went 10-6 and earned the duo their only playoff appearance — a 45-28 loss to the Saints.
“That was a great team, but I think we have the same kind of weapons on offense this season, and we’ve got more experience,” he said. “Plus I think we’re better this year on defense than we were then. The key is that we’ve got to get hot early in the season and keep it going.”
Stafford, though, didn’t want to get too carried away with thinking about football in February.
“This is the second practice of the first week of the season,” he said. “There’s a long, long way to go.”
One key for Detroit will be keeping Stafford and Johnson healthy.
Johnson finished last season with 1,492 yards, which would be a career year for almost every receiver, but a nagging knee injury limited him to 14 games and kept him from approaching his NFL-record 1,964-yard season in 2012. Johnson didn’t see much action in this year’s preseason, appearing in only one game, but that was part of Jim Caldwell’s plan to keep him fresh.
“My body feels great — this is as good as I’ve felt in a while,” Johnson said. “It felt great to get out there a couple weeks ago and get some game action, and now I’ll be ready to go on Monday night.”
The opener is Detroit’s second straight home game against the Giants, who knocked the Lions out of the postseason with an overtime win in Week 16 last year.
“There is nothing like a Monday night game in Detroit,” Johnson said. “Our fans are always great, but when we play on Monday night, you know it is going to be loud, and there’s the smoke from the pregame stuff, and it is just an incredible atmosphere.”