Stevie Johnson has heard all the calls for his head.
Critics of the Buffalo Bills’ receiver have sounded off this week on talk radio, going as far as calling for him to be released following his crucial fumble during Sunday’s overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
“It makes me work harder. It wakes me up,” Johnson said of the feedback he’s gotten from fans. “I feel like sometimes I can get a little lackadaisical and things may happen. I appreciate it. The fans are being real. It’s just a wake-up call.”
Did Johnson feel like he needed such a call?
“No, I didn’t,” he said. “Take it for what it is, man. I’ve been there before. I’ve touched the ground before, just got to climb to get back up.”
Johnson fumbled near the end of regulation with the Bills in position for a potential game-winning field goal against the Falcons.
Just like his personality, his failures are 1,000-watt bright. Perhaps the two go hand in hand.
“It hurts, because you never want to fail. That’s anybody in this locker room. Nobody wants to fail in situations like that,” Johnson said. “But there’s been situations where I’ve had success. You’ve got to take the good with the bad at the end of the day. That’s how I see it.”
Some of Johnson’s better days have come against a player he’s likely to see Sunday. Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis is in his first season with the Buccaneers after an offseason trade from the New York Jets.
Revis for years has been thought of as one of the best, if not the best, cornerbacks in football, but Johnson has done well against him. In their teams’ last four meetings, Johnson has 17 catches for 227 yards and three touchdowns – a season’s pace of 68 receptions, 908 yards and 12 TDs.
“I feel like Revis is Revis, I don’t need to say too much about him,” Johnson said. “He’s an elite corner. What my worry is, my main concern is getting a win. That’s it; I’m not worried about the matchup.”
Johnson was subsequently asked whether he thought he’d see a lot of Revis on Sunday.
“Who knows? I know we’ll be competing. I feel like we’ll match up more times than not and when we do we’ll see who be the better man throughout the game,” he said. “Once again, my main concern is trying to get a win, not an individual person.”
Revis tore the ACL in his left knee last September, so he’s still working his way back to being the dominant, shut-down corner he was with the Jets.
“I felt we were very, very prudent in the way that we handled his rehab and getting back into playing,” Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said. “He didn’t take any snaps prior to the season. I think in doing that, it allowed him to really strengthen the leg. But the other side of that is he really didn’t get to play many reps in our defense. So I think that’s improved. I think physically he’s improved, feeling better and better each week.”
The Buccaneers don’t always match him up against the opposition’s No. 1 receiver, but Schiano indicated Revis will find himself on Johnson frequently Sunday.
“Sometimes he runs the routes for the receivers. I’ve seen him do that on film. He’s one of the premier corners in the league,” Bills quarterback EJ Manuel said of Revis. He’s “good enough to see a guy coming out of a break or he’ll see certain steps that the receiver may take. He can kind of get a good jump on what a guy might do.”
Whether it’s against Revis or another corner, Johnson will be looking to turn around a season that’s been full of frustration. He’s missed two games because of injuries – his first two since becoming a starter four years ago – and is on pace to finish with 61 catches, 701 yards and four touchdowns.
Those meager statistics – along with his notable missteps – have fans frustrated.
But it’s hard to see how the Bills would heed calls to cut Johnson. The sixth-year veteran has three years remaining on his contract. He has been paid $18,425,000 in the past two seasons, and is still owed $17,825,000. If the Bills were to cut him before next season, they’d save that much in real dollars, but take a dead cap hit of $8,475,000 on the 2014 salary cap – the amortized amount of bonus money left over the final three years on his deal.
“This season so far has been a challenge for myself,” Johnson said this week, “and I’m pretty sure it’s been a challenge for everyone else in this locker room. But at the end of the day, we’ve still got action. We win these next four games, and the season could be memorable.
“We can’t make any mistakes. We’ve got to go 4-0 in this quarter, and that’s it. It’s a must-win situation these next four games. If you want to have a chance at playoffs, we’ve got to do our part, and that’s win out.”
Bills coach Doug Marrone met with Johnson this week following Sunday’s loss.
“What I’m trying to do is push this team forward, making sure that when we look back that we learn from those mistakes, whatever they may be,” Marrone said. “I’m not talking about just Stevie Johnson, I’m talking about all of us.”
Johnson said the team’s approach has been refocused despite the disappointment that came with the Atlanta loss.
“Just got to get back to work,” he said. “We all failed this past game, we was back out there, running around and getting after it. We know we’ve got four more to go, no matter what happens. I think this team will still go grind.”