• Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson worked his way back from a second torn Achilles tendon and helped power Kansas City’s D in a season-opening win over the Patriots. But seeing safety Eric Berry go down with the same injury brought back painful memories
By Kalyn Kahler
September 15, 2017

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When Eric Berry pulled up lame while covering Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in Week 1, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson felt his stomach sink. Berry removed his helmet and sat on the field, shaking his left foot, while trainers rushed out to check on the safety. “You never want to see anybody throw their helmet down,” Johnson said after the game. “That’s not good.”

For Johnson, Berry’s non-contact injury looked familiar: Achilles. His fears were confirmed when the team later announced Berry had in fact torn the tendon. In a Week 13 game against the Raiders last season, Johnson tore an Achilles tendon for the second time, this time on the other leg. As soon as he felt the sickening pop and stumbled to the ground, he knew what it was. The veteran linebacker sat on the field, shaking his head in disbelief. His first Achilles tear came in the 2014 opener, and here he was again, just two years later. At 34 years old, the second season-ending injury could easily have nudged the four-time Pro Bowler into retirement. But Johnson wasn’t ready to fade away. He took the field in last Thursday’s opener at New England and looked like his old self, contributing to a Chiefs defense that made the plays it needed (two fourth-down stops) to stun the Patriots.

Moments after the victory, a breathless Johnson spoke to The MMQB about his second comeback from a season-ending injury, what it meant to beat New England, and how he’s lasted so long in the league.

KAHLER: The last time you played on Thursday Night Football, you left the game with your second Achilles injury. What was it like to get back out on the field in a game that matters?

JOHNSON: I am 100 percent. It’s a long injury to go through, this is my second time going through it, unfortunately. My hats off to the defense, I am just glad to be out there helping them make plays. Football is never perfect, so there are things I can get better at, but at the same time, I am back to normal.

KAHLER: How ready were you to play?

JOHNSON: So ready. It’s one of those things where, when you get injured, and I’ve been injured twice with season-ending ones, you can’t wait to get back out there with your guys.

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KAHLER: What does it feel like to tear your Achilles?

JOHNSON: It is like someone kicked you in the back of the Achilles really hard and it pops and then you look back and you kind of can hear it, but it is a quick pop and your foot doesn’t work no more. You can’t stand on it. It doesn’t hurt, it just doesn’t work. It’s kind of weird. It’s always non-contact.

KAHLER: What does the upset of New England mean for this Chiefs team?

JOHNSON: To beat New England, here, is huge. I was telling the young guys, it’s huge. Of course, it’s just one game, but the momentum is huge. The best thing we did is we expected to win. We didn’t think about what everybody else was saying. We expected to win. We didn’t blink. That’s the whole thing we were talking about, don’t blink. If they make a play, don’t blink.

KAHLER: What does this win mean for the NFL in a bigger sense?

JOHNSON: It just lets you know that it’s any given Sunday. There is parity in the NFL and it just lets you know that if you don’t come to play or if you don’t make the right plays at certain times, you lose. That could have happened to us today, we could have easily lost.

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KAHLER: You made a great play at the end of the first quarter, when the Patriots targeted you in the end zone with a short pass to running back Rex Burkhead. Burkhead split out wide on the weak side, and you covered him closely, denying him the would-be touchdown pass from Brady. The Chiefs’ defense got two more stops after that first down play, and New England’s drive resulted in a field goal. Would you say that was your best play of the game?

JOHNSON: That was one of my best plays and it was one of those things where you want to create and have moments that create momentum. That was a moment that you say, hey, they just kicked a field goal.

KAHLER: That play is an example of how your defensive line uses "reduced fronts.” Can you explain that concept and how that helps you as a run defender?

JOHNSON: Reduced fronts overload to the tight-end side, so you have more defensive linemen to the tight-end side, and it makes people think about running more to the weak side because you have the defensive linemen overloading.

KAHLER: What were you thinking on that play?

JOHNSON: I’m a sideline-to-sideline ’backer and once they tossed the ball, I outran the offensive linemen and the running back tried to outrun me and that’s my strength.

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KAHLER: How did you notice the absence of wide receiver Julian Edelman?

JOHNSON: They still did the same things. I didn’t notice the absence of Edelman, but at the same time, Brady is the key. I promise you. They could have guys you would never know out there and Brady can make that offense go. When Brady is out there . . . we did a good job today.

KAHLER: You and linebacker Justin Houston started only three games together last season because of your Achilles injury and Houston’s knee injury. You’re both now fully recovered from those injuries, so how does that feel to get the band back together?

JOHNSON: It’s huge. You want to have all your impact players out there on the field and we’ve got a good group of core guys that have been here for awhile, and to have most of your guys healthy is huge.

KAHLER: When you tore your Achilles last December, at 34 years old, many people thought that might be your last play. Now in you’re 13th season in Kansas City; you and punter Dustin Colquitt are the longest-tenured members of the Chiefs. How have you been able to sustain this kind of longevity?

JOHNSON: It’s taken a lot of hard work, a lot of smart play, taking care of my body is big. Getting chiropractor work, massages, making sure I am healthy enough to stay on the field, and losing a little weight too.

KAHLER: How much weight did you lose this past offseason?

JOHNSON: About two or three pounds, but everything is down to a science when you get to my age. I used to play at 250, I play at 230 now.

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