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When Matthew Stafford hurt his shoulder for the second time in 2010, the Detroit Lions waited nearly two months before placing him on injured reserve.

Stafford never stood much chance of returning to action that year, and a few weeks after the season, underwent shoulder surgery that ostensibly confirmed that point.

The Lions dangled the carrot of a late-season return out there during their young quarterback’s rehab as a way to keep him fully invested in the season knowing there were brighter days ahead.

We still don’t know the full extent of Kerryon Johnson’s knee injury, or how realistic it is the rookie running back will see the field again this year. But Johnson’s comeback is starting to feel a little bit like what Stafford went through eight years ago.

Johnson, who was injured in the second half of a Nov. 18 win over the Carolina Panthers, missed practice again Wednesday and seems unlikely to play in Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

He has already missed two games with an injury that had him close to tears as he left the field, and at some point the Lions — if they haven’t already — will have to consider the merits of shutting him down for the rest of the season with 2019 in mind.

“For us, the injury thing is still the same,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said Wednesday. “They’re just day-to-day with it and trying to evaluate our players as they’re trying to work themselves back into a situation where they can go help us and go compete. That’s where we kind of keep it at this point.”

Given the state of the team right now, that’s the right thing to do.


Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia speaks to the media on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Allen Park.
Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press

The Lions (4-8) have lost five of their past six games and enter the final quarter of the season in possession of a top-five NFL draft pick.

Where exactly they end up in the draft order, though, is less important than the positive vibes that would come with winning a few games. Patricia’s first season as head coach has been a bumpy one for all involved, and a couple December victories would help quell some of the negativity the franchise is sure to endure this offseason.

Johnson is clearly one of the Lions’ best players, and certainly would help in that regard. He was arguably the team’s MVP before his injury, and still leads the Lions in rushing by a wide margin.

But the rookie second-round pick also had a lengthy injury history at Auburn and plays one of the most physically demanding positions in the NFL.

The Lions are going nowhere now, and need Johnson around for the future, and the best way to ensure that happens — not just in 2019 but beyond — may be to shut him down for the rest of the season.


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“Again, we’re kind of day-to-day to see how they feel and as soon as there’s a situation where they feel they can play and they can help us in in that situation, we go from there,” Patricia said.

The best-case scenario is the Lions win games this week against the Cardinals and next week against the Buffalo Bills so there’s no pressure on Johnson to return (or for anyone else in the organization to have him back on the field, for that matter).

That would increase the odds Johnson enjoys a healthy offseason, which would better the chance he comes back stronger next year.

“I think it’s great for every player to be able to have a full offseason,” Patricia said. “That’s kind of where we’re able to do the most with them before we get to training camp. But it doesn’t really kind of dictate (whether someone returns) either way. People have gone and done it all different ways and still been able to have great seasons. So we’re just kind of going day by day right now.”

Day by day, that’s the Lions’ approach with Johnson.

Maybe we see him again in December, maybe we don’t. But the closer we get to the end of the season, the better the idea sounds of shutting him down until 2019.

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Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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