METAIRIE, La. -- Terron Armstead wasn't going to lie and say he was feeling no pain on Monday morning after he returned from a torn pectoral in time to help the New Orleans Saints win their divisional-round playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
But he smiled and said, "It's a good pain. It's a good feeling. ... It's a good terrible."
The standout left tackle called Sunday's game "one of the hardest games of my career in all honesty" because of his injury and because of how good the Eagles' front four is.
But he said after the game, "I'm happy man. I'm excited for next week. I'm gonna stay on this path, for sure. Definitely not 100 percent, that's no secret -- or close to it. But it did what I needed it to do, and we'll go do it again next week."
This has been maybe the best season of Armstead's six-year career. Not only is he about to play in his first NFC Championship Game on Sunday (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox) against the Los Angeles Rams, but he was also recognized for the first time as a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro.
However, this has also been maybe the toughest season of Armstead's career because of the torn pectoral he suffered in Week 10.
Armstead's career has been stunted by a series of nagging injuries to his hip, knee and shoulder. He's traveled to Germany and throughout the United States, seeking various specialists and treatments that could help get his body right in recent years after missing nine games in 2016 and six more in 2017.
But he said the torn pec has been one of the most difficult injuries to deal with -- not knowing if it would recover in time for this playoff run.
"It's been a long road, for real. It's been a grind," said Armstead, who tried to return in Week 16 only to leave the game early because his arm wouldn't function like he hoped.
So he was thrilled to make it through a full game -- even though he allowed a sack in the first half and admittedly felt the kind of rust he would normally feel in Week 1.
"I just love playing, man," Armstead said. "I love being on the field and just feeling a part of it and trying to help the team win, doing whatever I can to help, even the smallest little bit. I just love it, I love being out there."
Along with having to shake off some rust, Armstead said he has had to make some technique changes as well.
"Can't play the same, because you don't feel the same," he said.
Having a week of experience under his belt should help in that department as he prepares to face a loaded Rams defensive front on Sunday.
Armstead was rated as Pro Football Focus' top offensive tackle for most of the season. And he didn't allow a sack before the pectoral injury (he gave up one each to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia).
Teammates often marvel at Armstead's rare skill set. The 6-foot-5, 304-pounder is an exceptional athlete for his size and still holds the record for the fastest 40-yard dash by an offensive lineman at the NFL scouting combine at 4.71 seconds in 2013. The Saints drafted him in the third round that year out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and made him a starter late in his rookie season.
Armstead would probably be on his third or fourth Pro Bowl selection by now if not for the injury issues. But he has earned tremendous respect from coaches and teammates for the way he has continued to fight through them over the years -- even when the knee injury didn't allow him to practice during the week in 2016 or the hip continued to tear on him in 2017.
Coach Sean Payton said after the 2016 season that, "There's not a left tackle I would trade him for in the league." And the Saints rewarded him soon after with a five-year, $65 million contract extension.
Armstead's teammates elected him as a captain heading into this season.
"He's been more of a vocal leader these last two years, just picking guys up, getting the guys in the huddle, helping me out, brings positivity to everyone," said Saints left guard Andrus Peat, who was a standout left tackle himself at Stanford before the Saints drafted him in the first round in 2015 and moved him to another position.
"And he's just a freak athlete. Does stuff that I've never seen anyone do, really, just with his feet. His technique, too, how he works his craft every day after practice," Peat said. "His play speaks for itself. He dominates."