The Detroit Lions and their fans got some bad news Monday night, just 24 hours after a crushing overtime defeat to the Seattle Seahawks.
Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who encouraged the use of blue ski masks as a key part of Detroit‘s visual identity, is believed to have suffered a torn pectoral muscle during the Seattle loss — and the injury, if confirmed, will rule out Detroit’s new signing for the rest of the 2023 season.
Gardner-Johnson’s huge impact in a short time
Gardner-Johnson joined the Lions as a free agent after a stellar 2022 season with the Philadelphia Eagles. The safety helped the Eagles make Super Bowl LVII. Gardner-Johnson recorded six interceptions in only 12 regular-season games, along with eight passes defended and a career-high 67 combined tackles.
Detroit signed Gardner-Johnson to a one-year contract in March, and the team initially feared the 25-year-old suffered a serious leg injury during training camp in July. Fortunately, he avoided ligament damage and started the season on time — he made 13 combined tackles in two weeks and helped Detroit record a Week 1 upset over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Will Lions recover?
Detroit‘s defense is expected to struggle without the playmaking Gardner-Johnson at its heart. A key divisional matchup awaits in Week 4 when the Lions visit Lambeau Field, and Packers quarterback Jordan Love could lay down a marker against a weakened pass defense.
On Sunday, with Gardner-Johnson slowed by the suspected pec injury, Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith completed 32 of his 41 pass attempts for 328 yards and two touchdowns — including the winner to Tyler Lockett in overtime.
Gardner-Johnson’s absence could open the door for rookie Brian Branch to receive extended reps. Branch, a cornerback by trade, provided one of the season’s early highlights with a 54-yard pick-six against Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.