February 04, 2023
For Lane Johnson, this Super Bowl run has three main differences over 2017.
"A little older, a little wiser, a little balder," he cracked Friday down at the NovaCare Complex.
But in all seriousness, the veteran right tackle is trying to enjoy this ride for everything it's worth.
Seasons like this don't come around often, and as Johnson came to learn five years ago, they go by quick.
"I feel like the first time I didn't really document it as well as I would have liked as far as pictures and memories," he said. "It was a quick week and it was the first time going there, but the second time around, my goal is to put as much work in, as much focus in as I can, but at the same time, enjoy it."
And you can argue that no one deserves to more.
Johnson has played both the divisional round against the Giants and the NFC Championship against the 49ers with a torn adductor suffered back on Christmas Eve in Dallas.
He needs surgery, but with the feeling that the Eagles were on the cusp of something special – backed by an NFC East title and the conference's No. 1 seed – he opted to put it off until the team's playoff run was done.
But this one's going all the way to the end, thanks in part to his being able to step back in and somehow lock the right side down as well as he ever has, even with the injury and even against one of the league's fiercest pass rushers – Hey, he has the reputation as football's best right tackle for a reason.
The rest time from missing the remainder of the regular season paired with the first-round bye in the playoffs helped, he said Friday, and so will the extra week in between the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl down in Arizona.
The matter of actually playing with the injury, however, was a different story.
Johnson said he worked with his doctor, team trainers, and his own trainer on rehab, treatment, and preparation to play throughout. He even reached out to Saints defensive end Cam Jordan (via New Orleans teammate Cesar Ruiz), who played through the same injury for the last month of the 2019 season – "Good luck, it's gonna hurt," Johnson recalled Jordan telling him.
But the confidence that he could ultimately be effective wasn't fully there until he finally hit the field against the Giants going on three weeks ago.
The uncertainty faded fast.
"I feel better now than I did initially with the first game," Johnson said. "The first game was my biggest challenge. Obviously, the last game was a challenge in itself, but I feel like the first game for me personally was harder to get ready for because I wasn't sure I could play through it. But after the initial contact in the first game, I was good. I had better confidence from the second drive on."
There were a few times in the 38-7 thrashing of New York where Johnson came up limp or was favoring his side, but he pushed through and the Giants' defense had no answer for him.
Like he had all season prior to the injury, he surrendered no sacks, hits on the quarterback, or even QB hurries to his assignments while playing 96 percent of the offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
Even more impressive was that he did just as well a week later on the way to the NFC title and another party out in the streets for Philadelphia, allowing just two hurries from the right side even when matched up against the likely Defensive Player of the Year in San Francisco's Nick Bosa.
.@Eagles @LaneJohnson65 v @49ers @nbsmallerbear 2 first team all-pros going at it. No one flies out of their stance faster than Lane. #FlyEaglesFly #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/rYAyqpuE8j— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 30, 2023
Way back in August, prior to the Eagles' open training camp practice at the Linc, Johnson met with the media and explained that he felt like his best football was still ahead of him.
He probably didn't expect to be dealing with this type of injury at the time – no one does – but six months later, he's more than proven his feelings to be true, to the point where only 60 more minutes of football against the Kansas City Chiefs separate him and the Eagles from another Super Bowl title.
But no matter what happens, after coming this far, after enduring so much, he's going to make sure to enjoy the ride.
"When you go through injuries or mishaps or anything, I feel like your perception grows different from some of the experiences you learned, so yeah, I'm just – I'm more thankful," Johnson said. "I feel like when you miss time on the field or you're away from the game, every time you come back you feel blessed to be where you're at."
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