In retrospect, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as such a big surprise. We’ve become accustomed to seeing Johnson on the weekly practice injury reports, the result of a big, physical player often going up high and falling hard in an effort to make those spectacular catches. But we’ve also become accustomed to his playing through various ailments, rarely missing games no matter what the injury.
In fact, prior to Sunday, Johnson had missed only four games in his career, the most recent being the season finale in 2010. Over the past few years, Johnson has been troubled by a sore knee intermittently and has often been limited in practice early in the week -- even given an extra day off routinely -- to enable him to play on game day.
Last week, however, the pattern changed. Johnson did not practice at all Wednesday or Thursday and did only limited work Friday. He also came into last week’s game as “questionable,” not the “probable” status usually associated with his name. It turned out that the questionable tag was indeed legitimate, as Johnson said he could not get comfortable with his knee during warm-ups, which ultimately became the deciding factor to hold him out.
This week, Johnson again sat out Wednesday but returned to practice Thursday on what appears to be a very limited basis. He engaged in positional drills only and was wearing a brace, according to the Detroit Free Press. At the start of this week, Johnson said he was close to playing last Sunday, hinting at a return for this week, but if swelling continues to be a problem, it may be something he is not able to overcome.
The Lions have not offered any clues as to the specifics of the injury, and the incidence of swelling only tells us that something within the joint remains enough of an irritant to produce increased fluid. Swelling will block range of motion and can inhibit the quadriceps muscle from firing at full strength, in addition to whatever mechanical problems the actual source of the swelling can cause.
The biggest concern beyond being able to function effectively is the risk of further injury, something the Lions clearly have to take into consideration when determining whether it is safe to let Johnson play. If the injury is not a serious one, trying to get that swelling under control can still be tricky and could take us up to game time for a decision on Johnson again this week.