C.J. Gardner-Johnson has been fighting to return to the Detroit Lions after sustaining a torn pectoral in September, but one specific moment helped kick his recovery into high gear.
Watching from the sidelines, Gardner-Johnson already badly wanted to return, and seeing the Lions take an ugly loss against the Chicago Bears apparently gave the safety all the extra motivation he needed.
"I'm going to be all the way thorough. I think when we lost to Chicago. That's when I knew somehing was wrong. I can't tell you what's going on offense (or) defense. I was away, but I knew something was wrong. Energy wasn't the same. So I felt like I just got to come back. I (was already) kicking it in, but I'm in high gear (after that)."
Gardner-Johnson was cleared to return to practice late the subsequent week. Detroit rebounded to beat the Denver Broncos on Week 15, and this week the loquacious defensive back has returned to the practice field.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson explains cause of Detroit Lions' recent struggles
At 10-4, the Lions are set up for a high postseason seed and a division title. That's rarified air for a franchise that hasn't sniffed the playoffs since 2016, much less ever been in position for a top seed.
In terms of the Lions' late-season malaise (before Week 15 anyway), Gardner-Johnson doesn't think it's a case of lost swagger, but rather the bi-product of a young team that isn't used to winning on a high level.
"I think Frank (Ragnow) said we lost our swagger for a couple games. We ain't losing our swagger, we got a young team. When you ain't never won so much, it's hard to keep your thoughts all in one box. I think coach Dan (Campbell) would say we're being hunted, but I don't think we're being hunted. We're hunting that swag. We're still hunting for what's ours and I don't think a lot of guys understand you're in a position right now you can change your life. You're fighting for seeds that you ain't never seen before. Some guys have, some guys haven't, but I think right now just coming tighter, tuning out the noise."
Gardner-Johnson was especially driven to complete his comeback after witnessing arguably the most frustrating game of the season for Detroit. That's not surprising to find out, based on what we've seen from him as a Lion.