Lane Johnson’s lived in Philadelphia long enough to know you can’t predict how its sports fans will react to a given situation.
So as he prepared for his return from a 10-game suspension ahead of Thursday night’s win over the Giants, he didn’t know whether he’d be booed or cheered as he emerged from the tunnel and jogged on to Lincoln Financial Field.
“We joked about that, what was going to happen, with some of the teammates,” Johnson said, smiling, after the win. “I thought about holding up a sign saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and putting it up there.”
Johnson didn’t bring a sign out of the tunnel, and it turns out he didn’t need to. He was roundly applauded as he took the field for the first time since late September, and then he played like the Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle the Eagles extended this offseason.
The offense’s first play? A run, off right tackle, behind Johnson. Ryan Mathews picked up 16 yards, and they were off and running.
“We started off the game with a boom,” Johnson said. “I think [Doug Pederson] just wanted to see me and [Brandon] Brooks work together just right out the gate, to see where we were at, and then work from there.”
The Eagles finished with 118 yards on the ground, and while the offensive line could’ve done a better job keeping Carson Wentz upright as the evening wore on, the unit — playing together in its original form for the first time in over two months, with over 700 snaps in between — looked, for the most part, like an elite unit.
Johnson said it felt weird to be back out there after so much time off, but it was just good to play in front of Eagles fans again.
He wanted a few plays back, including a few pressures he gave up because of confusion on pass protections, but overall couldn’t have asked for a much better return.
Jason Kelce, for one, was impressed with the way Johnson came back from suspension and prepared for this game, on a short week, after missing so much time.
“He was in a tough predicament,” Kelce said. “He hadn’t played football in 10 weeks. He’s only got three days to prepare for a game. And our offense, things have changed since the beginning of the season. We’re never stagnant. There was a lot of stuff he had to get caught up on, and to play this game in a short week, I think he handled it really, really well.”
Kelce, liked Halapoulivaati Vaitai earlier in the week, also said having Johnson back was big on an emotional level.
“His personality and everything is very contagious,” Kelce said.
Johnson is known around the locker room for his big, bright, ebullient personality. After five straight losses, a shot in the arm from Johnson was exactly what the Eagles’ locker room needed.
“One thing I try to do when I come in the locker room is try to lighten things up,” Johnson said, smiling. “This is a high-pressure game, you get a lot of scrutiny, and one thing I like to do is keep it fun in the locker room. People can laugh at me through my situations I’ve been in, so I try to lighten up the mood when I can.”
Even still, Johnson, normally a bundle of jokes after wins, had a few particularly sober moments in which he reminded reporters he was still bent on learning from his mistakes.
When asked whether Thursday night’s win made him wonder what could’ve been, he turned serious.
“I’ve just got to be more responsible,” Johnson said. “I can’t be as careless as I’ve been, I’ve got to mature and grow up.
“To be honest, it just felt good to be back on the field with my guys. Not being able to play the game you love, and knowing it’s self-inflicted, is a hard pill to swallow. It’s two strikes. From now on, I’ve got to be more careful.”
If he can be careful, Johnson makes the Eagles a much better team. That much is clear.