In the category of most mind-numbing Buffalo Bills statistic, presenting this nominee:
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson does not have a 100-yard receiving game since Dec. 11, 2011, a span of 13 games. Even more amazing, over the course of the Bills’ last 32 games – two full seasons – Johnson has topped 100 yards just once.
To put that in perspective, there have been 122 100-yard receiving games this year alone, and 158 overall in the regular season since Johnson had four catches for 116 yards at San Diego in Week 14 of last year. Colts rookie third-round pick T.Y. Hilton, to use just one example, has three 100-yard games this season.
So, Stevie, were you aware that it had been that long?
“Yeah, man. … Hell yeah. It needs to come,” he said. “But I know I’m playing within the offense. I’m doing whatever plays are being called and trying to make the most of what I can, but yeah, man, I’m looking for that 100-yard game. Hopefully it’ll be this weekend and continue to grow, so we can get to these playoffs.”
Johnson leads the Bills in receptions and yards, with 47 and 581, respectively, but those totals rank tied for 27th and 32nd in the NFL.
“People are focusing more on him than they have in the past. He gets doubled a lot more than he ever has before,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “I think that’s probably the No. 1 thing that you look at. We’re still trying to do the same things we did last year with him but we’re not getting some of the same results at times.”
Johnson has been targeted 89 times by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a number that’s 14th in the league. He’s catching 53 percent of the passes thrown his way, and has been charged with four drops by Pro Football Focus. Of receivers with at least as many catches as Johnson, only Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, with 52 catches on 104 targets (50 percent), has a lower catch percentage.
To put it another way, 43 percent of the time the ball is thrown Johnson’s way, it’s not catchable.
“I mean, the targets is there,” Johnson said, before choosing his next words carefully. “But there’s more opportunity out there.”
Johnson does not have a reception this season on a pass that’s traveled more than 20 yards in the air. That traces back to the inability of the offense led by Fitzpatrick to consistently make plays down the field.
Fitzpatrick, though, helped Johnson achieve back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, the first Bills player to ever do that, not to mention earn a five-year, $36 million contract in the offseason. So if Johnson does have any frustration with his quarterback or the offense, he’s keeping it to himself.
Like any No. 1 receiver, he simply wants the ball more.
“It’s true. I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he said. “I signed here because I wanted to change how it’s been. I wanted to make it to the playoffs, and I feel like getting the ball is an easier way to move down the field, to getting touchdowns.
“I’m not afraid to say I want the ball because I know it’s going to help our team. At the end of the day, whether I do good or do bad, the blame will be on me and not on anybody else.”
Johnson has been targeted nine times in each of the past two games, catching six balls in each. He hasn’t reached the end zone since Week Seven against Tennessee.
“I’ve definitely felt it,” he said of the increased attention paid to him by defenses. “They’ve been successful with it, but some of it we can still exploit a little bit more, even though they’re trying to send an extra defender over or underneath me. I still think I can be productive. We’ll see this Sunday. I know they’ll probably have some extra help, but I think I can be productive this weekend.”
The Colts rank 20th in the league in yards per game allowed through the air, at 252.4. They’ve given up 18 passing touchdowns, which is tied for 10th most.
Indianapolis also could be without top cornerback Vontae Davis, who’s questionable with a knee injury. The Colts previously put fellow starting cornerback Jerraud Powers on injured reserve because of a toe injury suffered in Week Nine.
Without Powers and Davis, the Colts have given up an average of 304 yards passing in their past three games.
“He’s got a different gait about him,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said of Johnson. “I always thought guys who are fast who have a different gait have an advantage. He’s long, he knows how to find seams and he’s definitely a solid, really good player.”
He’s also durable. Johnson, 26, hasn’t missed a game the past three seasons, playing through a torn groin all of last year and, recently, a painful thigh bruise.
“Where I came from – I came from the bottom – so I feel like if I miss a game, ‘OK, somebody’s going to move in and take my spot.’ I’ve got that mentality,” the former seventh-round draft pick said. “If I can run and catch the ball, I’m going to do whatever I can to get out there on the field. … I know the importance of my role in this offense and whether I’m out there. I know I’m taking away another defender to open up someone else on the team.”