PHILADELPHIA (AP) Lane Johnson immediately showed why he's so valuable to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Johnson cleared the way for Ryan Mathews to run 17 yards on Philadelphia's first play from scrimmage and then opened a big hole on Darren Sproles' 25-yard touchdown run by knocking Landon Collins out of the way. With Johnson back in the lineup, the Eagles played like the team that started the season 3-0.
Johnson set the tone early, Carson Wentz shook off a late hit that forced him to miss his first snaps and the defense made enough big plays to prevent Eli Manning and the New York Giants from clinching a playoff spot Thursday night. A 24-19 victory snapped Philadelphia's five-game losing streak.
''That felt good,'' Johnson said. ''I wasn't as winded as I thought I'd be. I missed a few assignments, but I'm glad we got the win.''
Johnson was inserted into the starting lineup the minute he walked into the team's practice facility after serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Coach Doug Pederson didn't even wait to watch him practice or check to see if he was in shape before announcing Johnson would take his spot on the offensive line.
With Johnson, the Eagles are 4-1 this season. They're 2-8 without him.
''It was huge to get Lane back,'' Wentz said. ''That was a big spark for us.''
Fans have blamed Johnson for the team's problems and teammates expressed disappointment in him. Johnson joked that he considered running onto the field carrying a sign that read: ''I'm sorry.''
''I have to be more responsible,'' Johnson said. ''I can't be as careless as I've been. I have to mature and grow up.''
Right from the start, Johnson made an impact by wiping out the left side of New York's defensive line on big gains.
''That was a big momentum booster,'' he said of his block that sprung Sproles for a score that put the Eagles up 7-0.
Johnson, the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, is the best all-around lineman on a unit that includes nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters. He has started every game in four seasons except for 14 he's missed due to suspensions. Johnson sat out the first four games in 2014 after his first PED violation.
''First play of the game, he picked up where he left off,'' Pederson said. ''It was a great addition to have him back.''
The Eagles were 0-6 in one-score games before beating the Giants. It's safe to assume Johnson would've made the difference in at least a couple of those losses, which would've put Philadelphia in the playoff mix.
Instead, they're looking to finish strong going into 2017.
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