THE SECURITY guard raised the gate's automated arm when Lane Johnson pulled into the NovaCare parking lot Monday, and that was all Doug Pederson needed to see.
Actually, Pederson didn't see it, but he heard about it, and on the strength of the knowledge that Johnson had indeed managed to return to the practice facility from his 10-game PED suspension, Pederson made him the starter at right tackle for Thursday's visit from the New York Giants.
At his day-after news conference, Pederson told reporters he hadn't seen Johnson, but that offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and Stoutland's assistant, Eugene Chung, had, and Pederson expected to see Johnson later.
"Considering the nature of the injuries we've had and everything, and with Lane being back today, Lane will go in as the starter," Pederson said.
This was not a surprise, but given that the coach hadn't seen Johnson and said he had no information on his conditioning, wasn't it a bit premature? Some gentle media prodding ensued.
Isn't it possible playing Thursday, off two practices, following a 10-week layoff, could expose Johnson to injury?
"It's possible," Pederson said. "You just kind of have to see when I put my eyes on Lane, just to see where he's at physically, and what he's been doing over the last 10 weeks. But he's such a tremendous athlete that I wouldn't expect anything too traumatic to happen in the next couple of weeks. But obviously, it is possible."
On Friday, Pederson had noted he was about to use his fifth right tackle of the season, had said it was "almost a no-brainer" to pencil Johnson back into the lineup this week, practice time be danged.
"I guess we are about to see," Johnson texted, when the Daily News informed him of this.
Johnson and Eagles players were not available to the media Monday. A reporter said to Pederson that the coach "must know something" to announce Johnson is starting.
"Well, I know something," Pederson replied, with what might be described as a rueful laugh. Maybe even a bitter chuckle. "Isaac (Seumalo) is hurt and Big V (Halapoulivaati Vaitai) is coming off a knee injury and Allen Barbre is injured. So, what else do I have left? You know what I mean? I'm just going, 'Lane, you're the guy. I don't care if you are X weight. You've got to play' . . . He's an athlete and I'm sure he worked out and kept himself in shape and stayed relatively around - he was 318, 319 when he left us, so I expect to see him about that weight, I guess, later today. And with the injury situation, you've got to go."
Johnson said two weeks ago that he was "coming in at 320."
Pederson said Barbre (hamstring) should return to practice and play this week, and that he expected to see Vaitai at practice as well. Seumalo, in his first start Sunday at right tackle, played through the high ankle sprain, suffered early in the game. Pederson said he is "day-to-day" this week.
Johnson, no matter how rusty, is the guy the Eagles drafted fourth overall in 2013, and he was playing better than anyone on the line when his suspension took effect. The Eagles were 3-1 then. They are 2-8 since.
Not having to worry about who moves to right tackle this week gives Pederson some flexibility elsewhere. He was asked if Barbre will return to his starting left guard post. Pederson said he wants to see how Barbre looks, but he also talked about how impressed he is with Seumalo, the third-round rookie who was the first player the Eagles drafted this year after Carson Wentz. Left guard is where Seumalo would normally play.
"He played extremely well," against the Ravens, Pederson said. "We got a great player in Isaac, and a versatile player, that can play any of those positions now along the line. Gives us a little more depth these last couple of weeks. He will definitely factor in."
DEVELOPING STORY LINES
* Something I didn't notice until I rewatched - Ryan Mathews not only wasn't on the field for the two-point conversion try at the end, his last carry of the game, for 18 yards, came with more than five minutes remaining.
* Kenjon Barner (hamstring) won't play against the Giants, Doug Pederson said. But, he said Barner's fellow running back/returner, Darren Sproles, has been cleared through the concussion protocol and will play.
* Really odd game Sunday for the Eagles' defense. On three runs, the Ravens gained 96 yards. On their other 21, they gained 55 - that's a little more than 2 1/2 yards a carry. Passing totals were similar: a 54-yarder and a 34-yarder, along with 28 other Ravens passes, those throws gaining 118 yards, an average of 4.2 yards per attempt. The question going forward: Is eliminating big, backbreaking plays a matter of adding a few players, and the rest of the guys getting more experience in Jim Schwartz's system? Or is this just what we can expect from life with Schwartz, what having "aggressive" as your watchword means?
* On the subject of aggressiveness, Jalen Mills might be right that the coordinator did him no favors with the risky coverage call on the TD pass to Steve Smith Sr. right before halftime. But the play would never have happened if Mills hadn't been called for pass interference on a third-and-4 incompletion earlier in the drive.
* Carson Wentz weathered a really, really terrible first quarter. Interception that set up a Ravens touchdown on the first series. Fumble out of bounds while being sacked to end the second series, which might have been an ill-advised throwaway attempt. Third series, Wentz fumbled a perfect shotgun snap, but recovered it. He entered the second quarter 4-for-9 for 23 yards and the pick. Every third-down pass attempt, though, Wentz was running for his life. He and his protection both got better after that. Asked Monday about early passing woes, Doug Pederson said: "Some of it was the weather, the wind . . . Some of it was a little bit of the protection, a couple issues early in the game. You saw Carson moving around. Baltimore had a nice little pick-stunt with their front and caught us a couple of times, and made Carson move."
* On the 39-yard Michael Campanaro end-around that helped set up the Ravens' first field goal, Malcolm Jenkins followed Campanaro across the formation as he went in motion, but froze when Joe Flacco faked a handoff to a running back after he'd already given the ball to Campanaro. Nobody else could get off a block. Off to the races.
* Don't know that I'd ever seen a 17-play, 59-yard Eagles' drive for a field goal before Sunday. Don't know that I ever want to see one again.
* What Nelson Agholor was supposed to do on that fourth-down jet sweep was what Bryce Treggs did earlier, to pick up a third-quarter first down on third-and-3. Treggs cut inside Zach Ertz, who clearly was again blocking his man to the outside on Agholor's run. But Agholor probably had the first down anyhow after he lowered his shoulder at the sideline, had he not already stepped way out of bounds, initiating yet another learning experience for the Eagles' 2015 first-round draft pick.
* What a game for those outside zone runs. Hard to remember Eagles' offensive linemen getting to the second level and clearing bodies like that since the "snow game" three years ago at the Linc against the Lions. Jason Peters and Jason Kelce were dominant.
That Byron Marshall could jump-cut like that? Or pass block like that? Presumably, not the Eagles' coaching staff, which kept him on the practice squad until Game 14. As we all know, the offense really hasn't needed much help.
Rodney McLeod said Sunday he lost track of where he was on the field and was guarding unnecessarily against a cutback when McLeod failed to challenge Kenneth Dixon on a 16-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
Doug Pederson was asked about the play Monday, McLeod having seemed hesitant more than once lately.
"I went back and looked at it this morning, and I think as a safety, he's always kind of prided himself in just sticking his nose in there," Pederson said. "I think there was a situation where it was kind of a one-on-one situation, and I get it from a player's standpoint, too, that you're trying to maintain inside leverage. You don't want to get beat inside.
"I haven't talked to Rodney, so I don't know if there was an awareness, a where-you-are-on-the-field type thing. But at the same time, I think he would probably want that play over again . . . Listen, he's been a great part of our defense. He's been a steady, consistent player for us all season long. By no means is one play going to define him or the way he's played for us this season."
Even without the two-point conversion, the Eagles scored more points Sunday (26) than in any game since their Sept. 25 victory over the Steelers. But they gave up 27, to a team that had only scored that many in three previous games. This might tie into Bob Vetrone Jr.'s favorite stat: The Eagles are 5-0 when they allow 23 points or fewer, 0-9 when they allow 24 or more.
Doug Pederson got several questions again Monday from skeptical reporters about the failed two-point conversion try at the end of the game - not about going for the win, which just about everybody seems to agree was a reasonable thing to do, but about calling a pass play, on a day when the Eagles had gained 169 rushing yards but were 2-for-9 for 8 yards passing in the red zone. And about starting the play with rookie Byron Marshall at running back, instead of Ryan Mathews, who had 128 yards on 20 carries.
Pederson reiterated what he'd said Sunday about the Ravens' zero blitz, and the impossibility of running into it.
On the pivotal play, just in case you missed it, down 27-26, Carson Wentz tried to throw a quick slant to Jordan Matthews, through the blitz. Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley got a hand on the ball, and as it fluttered toward Matthews, corner Jerraud Powers alertly jumped the receiver, which he was allowed to do since the ball had been touched. Incomplete, game over.
"In my mind, there was zero opportunity to run, because what we anticipated is what we got defensively - they gapped out. They zero blitzed us. There was not going to be a lane. It was going to be a 1-yard loss if we tried to run the football at that time," Pederson said.
"In those situations, as I mentioned after the game, as a defensive coordinator, you storm the castle. That's what they did. Then you try to create the matchup one-on-one, which we had a good one on our slot receiver, Jordan Matthews. Just unfortunate the one extra guy got his hand on the ball and tipped it. It didn't matter who was in the backfield at the time. The fact of the matter was, we weren't going to run the ball in that situation."
But couldn't you preserve at least a little mystery there by not having the back be a rookie fresh off the practice squad who'd made his NFL debut in the second quarter?
"No. Listen, from a football coach's standpoint - and maybe from layman's terms it might appear that way - when you're in the heat of the battle like that, they are going to do what they do, we're going to do what we do," Pederson said.
Nothing to be gained from putting in Mathews there, then?
"No. They knew we were throwing the ball," Pederson said.