PHILADELPHIA − So there Lane Johnson sat, more than an hour after the Eagles clinched their spot in the Super Bowl, eye black still smeared down his face, his uniform still on long after the rest of his teammates had celebrated, dressed and left.
Johnson was proud, not just because he is going back to the Super Bowl for the second time in his career, but more because how he's going back when the Eagles face the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.
That's because Johnson admitted that he was "nervous as (expletive)" before the Eagles beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-7 in the NFC championship game on Sunday, and it wasn't just because Johnson was going against 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa, who led the NFL with 18½ sacks this season.
Rather, Johnson said it was because "I was on one leg."
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There are so many unknowns as to what Johnson is trying to accomplish by playing through a torn adductor muscle in his groin area that needs surgery. The injury could resurface at any point, leading to excruciating pain. And Bosa, the likely NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was certainly ready to take advantage.
And yes, this worried Johnson, especially early in the second quarter when the Eagles started their possession at their own 6-yard line.
Facing a third-and-14 from the 2, and a ferocious 49ers pass rush, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts threw incomplete, but was not sacked.
"One false move, and (Bosa) could (expletive) put you on your (butt)," Johnson said. "He could strip-sack it. Especially when you're (expletive) backed up at the 6-, 7-yard line. You have to pay attention to your set lines and getting off the ball because if you don't, you're (in trouble)."
Bosa didn't have a sack, or even a QB hit.
For Johnson, it was just another day at the office. He hasn't allowed a sack in 30 consecutive games, dating back to Nov. 22, 2020, when he gave one up to Cleveland's Myles Garrett. And back then, Johnson was playing on an ankle that would require a second surgery.
Johnson said this is nearly as painful.
Johnson originally suffered the injury on Dec. 11 against the Giants. He managed to play through it the next week in Chicago, but it resurfaced the following week against the Cowboys. At that point, Johnson was told that he needed surgery, which would have ended his season and prevented him from playing in the Super Bowl.
It didn't look promising when noted surgeon Dr. William Meyers told Johnson that it's difficult for football players, particularly linemen, to play through the injury for prolonged periods.
Then Meyers told Johnson something encouraging.
"He said hockey players have (played through it)," Johnson said. "Then when I found out (New Orleans Saints defensive end) Cam Jordan played through it, I was like, 'If he can do it, I can do it.'"
So Johnson reached out to Jordan, who told him, "'Good luck. It's just going to hurt.' Just knowing that he went through that gave me confidence."
Johnson missed the Eagles' final two regular season games, and he got an extra week when the Eagles clinched the top seed in the NFC playoffs and a first-round bye. He returned in an NFC Divisional Round game against the Giants on Jan. 21.
Johnson said it took only until the first bull rush from Giants defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux before he felt the pain. Johnson hobbled around a bit at first but stayed in the game. The Eagles won 38-7, thus giving Johnson some time off in the fourth quarter.
"I don't know if I retore it," he said. "But I felt like I was struggling more (than against the 49ers). Whatever healed in those three or four weeks, I didn't really experience a full bull rush until (the Giants) game. That's an initial, 'Ahhh!' Whatever healed up got reopened.
"But it wasn't as bad as it was in the Giants game. So that's encouraging."
So is the fact that Johnson now has two weeks until he has to play again. That won't guarantee anything, of course, other than Johnson will be on the field to start the game. Whether he finishes it is anyone's guess.
In the meantime, Johnson will continue his grueling and relentless rehab.
"Most of the week, I'm doing stuff in the training room in the morning (before practice)," he said. "Then I get home, I do some of my own stuff. I've been getting after it."
Johnson doesn't have time to waste. He put off surgery back in December because he knew then that the Eagles had the potential to get to the Super Bowl, and he didn't want to miss it.
After all, Johnson is 32 years old, and in his 10th season. He knows how fleeting these opportunities can be.
"It's crazy how it played out, but time flies real quick," Johnson said. "That's what you realize. I remember the first Super Bowl run, (former Eagles tight end) Brent Celek talked about how they reached the NFC championship game his second year, then they lost and he's like 'I'll be back soon.'
"And it wasn't till Year 11. … I don't take anything lightly."
So Johnson will play one more game and see how long he can last against Chiefs pass rushers. Then he'll have the surgery.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: How Eagles' Lane Johnson returned to Super Bowl 'on one leg'
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