by Daniel Evans
originally published in the The Selma Times‑Journal

Michael Johnson’s 2015 NFL season looked like it might’ve been over before it even started.

Johnson went down on day one of Cincinnati Bengals’ training camp in August and was carted off the field with an apparent knee injury. It was a tough blow for the Selma native, who worked hard in the offseason so that he could bounce back from an injury-plagued season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“This is not the way it’s supposed to be,” Johnson said he remembers thinking. “But, it’s going to be OK. I’m going to rehab and I’m going to come back on fire.”

The injury ended up being only an MCL tear, which put Johnson on the sidelines for four weeks, but gave him enough time to recover to be back on the field for the Bengals’ opener against the Oakland Raiders.

“The first thing I did was pray,” Johnson said. “And whatever damage is done is not going to be as bad after I prayed. The angle that it happened in I could’ve blown my whole knee out.”

Instead, Johnson has been a fixture on the field for the Bengals and his tackle totals continue to rise as the season continues. After only five tackles in the first three games of the year, Johnson has 11 in his last three games and also added a sack of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in that span.

“The main thing with me is I’m emotionally and mentally healthy,” Johnson said. “I’m just blessed that I was able to come back ready… I decided after the season last year this was going to be my best year yet and I really believe that.”

It’s hard to measure a defensive end’s value based on a stat line, but if Johnson’s level of play continues to rise each week, it could be bad news for other teams. The Bengals are currently 6-0 and one of five undefeated teams remaining in the NFL.

Cincinnati has 17 sacks, the seventh highest total in the NFL and the Bengals are also giving up only 20.3 points per game, the fourth best total in the AFC.

“We believe in each other and we believe in everything we are doing,” Johnson said. “We believe that if we play our best each and every snap that’s enough to win. We continue to do that week in and week out and we’ve seen great results. As long as we stick to that philosophy, we are going to be alright.”

Despite the great start, the Bengals will be tested in November and December. Half of Cincinnati’s remaining 10 games come against teams from inside the AFC North and will be key in deciding who wins the division.

Johnson said he believes this could be a very special year for the Bengals if they can stay focused and follow their current path to success.

“I don’t see us losing a game. We have the roster, we have the mindset,” Johnson said. “We just have to continue with our philosophy.”

The Bengals have been dominant in their first six games, defeating half their opponents by at least 13 points and scoring at least 24 points in every game so far this season.

Cincinnati is on a bye this week, so Johnson was in Selma for a luncheon and to see friends and family.

The Bengals currently hold a two-game lead over the second place team in their division, the Pittsburgh Steelers.