Johnson: 'We can taste it'

Tank Johnson still has a long way to go with his legal battles. Good thing for the Bears, he hasn't forgotten how to get after the quarterback and came up with a crucial sack of Matt Hasselbeck in the fourth quarter last Sunday. Johnson talked to the media in the locker room at Halas Hall on Wednesday, and Bear Report was there to hear what he had to say.

For Tank Johnson, a return to the Bears lineup after a two-game absence this season was a welcome opportunity to relax and refocus.

Although initially uncertain how his teammates would react to the distractions caused by his personal situation at that time, the defensive standout was grateful when his appearance at Halas Hall was greeted with support by those who knew him best.

"It was a hard time for me, that's for sure," Johnson said on Wednesday at Halas Hall. "But the guys let me know right away that everything was fine as far as they were concerned. That helped me get my head out of my problems and back into the game."

Johnson found, however, getting his mind back on football was not as easy as he hoped it would be.

"Green Bay was not my best effort," he admitted. "I was there physically but not there mentally. I knew that I had a lot of work to do before we hit the playoffs. Luckily the Bears had a first-round bye, so that gave me additional time to feel comfortable on the field and to redirect my energies 100% to the game."

Johnson finally felt he had returned to form against the Seahawks last week end and was particularly satisfied with a late-game sack against Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck that helped secure a Bears win.

"It felt good," he said. "My energy level was right back there, and I was ready to go. I knew how important those last few minutes of regulation were for the Bears. If Seattle had been able to keep moving down the field then, the outcome could have been different. I was ready to get back and get in Hasselbeck's face. It threw off Seattle's offensive timing. I think that was a good contribution."

Now that the Bears have progressed to the next level, Johnson feels even more ready to play. And he certainly has no desire to dwell on the past.

"You media people are the ones who always bring up things that happen off the field," he said. "That was then, and this is now. I'll handle my personal business myself. The way I can contribute is to worry only about this game. Our intensity right now is completely on the championship. Nothing else matters."

For Johnson, the keys to victory over New Orleans lie in understanding and anticipating the Saints offense.

"I've watched a lot of film on them so far," he said, "and this is early in the week. There's a lot more work to do. Our practices this week will be very intense. [Defensive coordinator Ron] Rivera understands the challenges ahead, and we're confident that the team will be well prepared by Sunday."

And what has Johnson learned this far?

"That the Saints are good," he said very matter-of-factly. "They have a two-pronged offensive attack. [Deuce] McAllister and [Reggie] Bush are tough to control. Deuce is strong and fast. Reggie is so explosive. They are both agile and can get right in there fast. They've made their mark burning through defensive schemes. That's hard to defend. These players have a sense of what's happening on the field almost before it develops."

But McAllister and Bush aren't Johnson's only concerns.

"Add Drew Brees to the mix," Johnson continued. "He's experienced and tough. It's hard to rattle him, but I certainly plan on being right in there on every play. I did see some weaknesses when they played last time. I won't comment further than that, but I am finding some moves I might be making myself."

Johnson seems to relish the challenge and hopes to use this game as an opportunity to thank his teammates for their support.

"I owe these guys," he said. "My family and this team mean so much to me. You can be sure I'm going out there on Sunday and doing everything in my power to bring the championship to the Bears."

Johnson believes this will be the biggest game of his life.

"Looking back," he said, "I can remember games in high school or college that were important to me at that time. But this is on a whole other level. What we've done up to this point really means nothing. Statistics mean nothing. What the media says means nothing. What happens off the field means nothing."

Despite all the personal demons he has had to battle this season, Johnson knows he can erase all that with one victory this Sunday.

"It is a 60-minute season for us now," he said. "The goal of every player in the NFL is to go to the Super Bowl. Our chance is so close we can taste it. New Orleans is a very strong team on offense, and there's a lot of sentiment behind them right now. But the Bears are known for being a tough team, as well. It's us against them, winner take all. I can't wait to help the Bears come out on top."

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