Calvin Johnson being slowed by a nagging ankle injury surprisingly hasn't had much of an affect on the Detroit Lions' offense with Golden Tate stepping up as the primary target.
It's a role Tate gladly will accept again if Johnson isn't able to play Sunday against the host Minnesota Vikings, who are counting on rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to be fully recovered from an injury of his own.
Johnson suffered a high ankle sprain in a 19-7 win over Green Bay on Sept. 21, then was held to two catches for 12 yards in a 24-17 victory over the Jets the following week.
He aggravated the injury again in last Sunday's 17-14 loss to Buffalo after catching one pass for seven yards. Johnson and coach Jim Caldwell eluded to the star receiver possibly sitting out against the Vikings to help the ankle heal properly.
"You want to be smart. You don't want to put yourself in a position where you can't be there for the team when it comes down to it there at the end, and that's what we're trying to be smart about right now," Johnson said.
"Anytime you're dealing with an ankle, you got to run, you got to cut and do all those things, so it makes it tough. Just a lot of treatment that goes into it. Take some time to rest and get off your feet as well."
Tate, who signed a five-year, $31 million deal in the offseason to complement Johnson after winning the Super Bowl with Seattle, has been Matthew Stafford's go-to receiver with Johnson aching. He had a career-high eight catches for 116 yards against the Jets before catching seven passes for a career-best 134 yards and a touchdown last week.
"I don't like to call myself a No. 2 receiver for anyone," Tate said. "Obviously (Johnson's) the No. 1 for sure, but 1B sounds good.
View images from the Wednesday, October 8 practice at Winter Park.
"In my mind I think the best is yet to come. Hopefully my role keeps increasing and hopefully I keep having an opportunity to help this team win."
Tate did everything he could last week, but the Lions (3-2) were done in by Alex Henery's three missed field goals. Detroit released Henery on Tuesday and signed former Denver kicker Matt Prater.
Prater received a four-game suspension and voluntarily entered a 12-step program for his alcohol problems after testing positive for alcohol consumption in the offseason. The Broncos released Prater on Friday, and he's eager to prove he can bounce back from his issues and be the Pro Bowl kicker he was last season.
''Sometimes you've got to get knocked down to learn the hard way,'' Prater said. ''I'm thankful that I have a second chance here and learn from all the mistakes I've made in the past.''
Bridgewater didn't make many mistakes in his first career start Sept. 28, throwing for 317 yards while adding a rushing touchdown in a 41-28 win over Atlanta.
He sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter, though, and Christian Ponder was forced to start last Thursday's 42-10 loss to Green Bay. Bridgewater, who was named the starter after Matt Cassel suffered a season-ending injury Sept. 21 in a 20-9 loss to New Orleans, declared himself 100 percent healthy.
He'll face a tough test against the Detroit defense. It leads the NFL in total yards allowed per game with 282.4, is tied for the league lead in fewest first downs allowed per game with 17.2 and ranks second in points allowed at 15.8 per game.
"They're the No. 1 defense and we know that it's going to be a challenge for us, not only up front but in the passing game also," Bridgewater said. "We're just going to try our best to execute the game plan."
Coach Mike Zimmer is confident Bridgewater can live up to the expectations.
"Teddy is a super competitor," Zimmer said. "He's got a lot of poise, and he's got a lot of talent. I hope his expectations are high.''
The Vikings (2-3) committed three turnovers against the Packers and allowed a season-worst 156 rushing yards. Linebacker Chad Greenway is hoping to play this week despite broken ribs, and Zimmer is counting on safety Harrison Smith to be in uniform despite a sprained left ankle.
Cordarrelle Patterson ran for a touchdown and caught an 8-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter as Minnesota won last season's finale 14-13 over the Lions, who were without Johnson due to a knee injury.