Sunday’s road finale for the Detroit Lions featured the return of 2018 second-round pick Kerryon Johnson. The Lions running back was eased back into the game after spending eight weeks on injured reserve following a knee injury that required surgery. Johnson had just 11 total touches in the game and turned those into a respectable 43 yards.
But Johnson didn’t need to return to the game at all. Given that the Lions’ season was lost long ago and Detroit presumably covets Johnson’s skills for the future, no one would have batted an eye if the Lions decided to shut him down for the final two games of the season to let him heal up for 2020.
However, according to Johnson, the coaching staff gave him the option to return.
“Coach (Matt) Patricia said, ‘Look, obviously, you don’t have to do this,’ “ Johnson said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “I said, ‘No.’ I told him I want to play. I felt like it just was the right thing to do. Something I wanted to do for myself and for the team.”
It’s easy to understand why Johnson opted to return. His NFL career, thus far, has been frustrating for the young running back. He has already missed nearly half the games with several injuries, and he joined the league to play, not be a bystander. The start to his 2019 season—just 308 rushing yards on 92 carries (3.35 YPC)—was disappointing and likely left a bad taste in his mouth. Returning in 2019 meant a chance to show promise for the future and even help his team out in the immediate.
Johnson even said after the game that this was one of the most enjoyable experiences of his past year.
“It felt awesome, honestly,” he said. ”That’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a year. I mean, it was great just to be able to get back there, get to be able to contribute a little bit, get to be able to play and just do what I’m here to do, so it was fun.”
But the coaching staff’s decision to leave the choice up to Johnson was controversial, to say the least. Prior to Sunday’s game 64 percent of fans said playing Johnson was the wrong move for the Lions. The worry being that Johnson would aggravate his knee injury or perhaps even suffer something more serious during a “meaningless” football game.
And while Johnson did look awkward at times with a bulky knee brace and even looked like he may have been in pain at one point, the young running back said he’s no worse for wear after his 16 snaps vs. the Broncos.
“(The knee) came out good. No worse than when I went in, so can’t be mad about that,” Johnson said per The Athletic.