ATLANTA — Rams safety John Johnson III has become a folk hero of sorts among some Eagles fans after he mocked the Saints’ “Choppa Style” celebration in the NFC championship game.
When Johnson intercepted Drew Brees in overtime nearly two weeks ago, he popped up and broke out the high-stepping dance move that involves revving an imaginary motorcycle. The Saints had adopted the 2003 song and its accompanying jig as their theme, but Johnson said he wanted to throw it back in their faces when he saw players taunting the Eagles with their ski-mask routine.
“I wanted to do it the whole game. It happened in overtime finally,” Johnson said Thursday. “They were mocking Philly with the ski masks, which I thought was pretty cool and original that [the Eagles] were doing that. When I did that, I was like, ‘Aw, I got to get them back.’ ”
During the Eagles' run to the playoffs, the defensive backs started wearing ski masks as a motivational tool for creating turnovers. Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, apparently, had been wearing ski masks around the same time and clearly took exception.
After New Orleans beat the Eagles in a divisional playoff, Ingram and Kamara wore the masks during postgame interviews. And then a video of the players wearing masks and celebrating in the locker room to the sounds of Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” — the Eagles’ 2017 rallying cry — was posted on social media.
“That was more disrespectful. Meek Mill’s from Philly. That’s definitely their thing,” Johnson said. “So I was like, ‘Come on now.’ ”
Johnson said that he was also sticking up for friends he has on the Eagles. He played high school football in the D.C. area against safety Tre Sullivan, and said he knew safety Rodney McLeod also because of their similar hometown roots. Johnson cited cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Rasul Douglas as acquaintances, as well.
The second-year Boston College product has gained more friends in the Philly area and has given some Eagles fans another reason to root against the Patriots on Sunday.
“I’ve gotten a lot of comments on Instagram, direct message on Instagram,” Johnson said. “It’s cool. … It’s good to know somebody’s behind us. I know when we play [the Eagles] again it won’t be like that. But for this game, it’s pretty cool.”
The NFL is full of players who never got an opportunity to play for the team that drafted them, but found a home elsewhere.
Blake Countess, who was selected by the Eagles in the sixth round of the 2016 draft and now plays for the Rams, is one such player. The third-year safety was released just before the 2016 season, but rather than return to the Eagles on their practice squad, he accepted Los Angeles’ offer to join its practice squad.
“It was a better move for me at the time to head out to L.A.,” Countess said Thursday. “It wasn’t so much the guys ahead of me as it was numbers. The Eagles picked up [Terrence Brooks] off waivers the next day.”
Countess added it up — the Eagles had five safeties on their active roster, while the Rams had three — and headed west even though he said his preference was to play for the team that had drafted him.
“I was disappointed. … Getting drafted is a big deal,” Countess said. “But talking to my agent and a few other guys around the league, it’s a business. You got to look out for what’s best for you.”
The Rams promoted Countess by November of his rookie year, and he’s been a valuable special-teams contributor since. He scooped up a blocked punt and returned it for a touchdown against the Eagles in 2017. And in Week 3 of this season, he scored another touchdown off a blocked punt, returned two kicks for 51 yards, and was named NFC special-teams player of the week.
Countess has been battling a plantar-fasciitis injury and hasn’t practiced much the last two weeks, but he said he expects to play Sunday.
Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has kicked his game up a notch in the playoffs. He has 1 ½ sacks, four quarterback hits, and two tackles for losses in the Rams’ wins over the Cowboys and Saints. He’s a big reason the Rams held those two teams to just 2.7 yards per carry after giving up a league-worst 5.1 in the regular-season.
“He played pretty well throughout the season,’’ head coach Sean McVay said. “But there’s a level of urgency that’s raised in the postseason. I think he’s been at his best in these last two games.
"But that by no means is an indication that he wasn’t playing well in the regular-season. I just think he’s been that good in these last two games. I also think it’s a credit to some of the opportunities. He’s gotten in some good spots. Our coaches have put him in the right spot to be able to accentuate his skill set. But he has certainly raised his level of play, and we expect the same thing week.’’
Suh, 32, is in his ninth NFL season. He’s been to five Pro Bowls. He’s been a first-team Al-Pro selection three times. Unfortunately, too often, the first thing people think when his name comes up isn’t all of the plays he’s made over the years but some of his questionable on-field behavior, which has cost him tens of thousands of dollars in fine money.
“I’m not sure if anything has changed,’’ he said when asked if the 2018 Suh is a kinder, gentler Suh. “I’m still aggressive. I still like to get after the quarterback. I don’t know. You’d have to ask the refs.
“Everybody has their own opinion. There were some mishaps that happened earlier in my career. Some people choose to run with it for days and it’s end of story. Some choose to run with it for years.’’
Rams center John Sullivan on the Patriots: “We understand the Patriots are the Patriots for a reason. They’ve got great personnel, but they also have an incredible system.
“You can say that, other than Brady, the [big] names aren’t there. Well, part of the reason the names aren’t there is because every single guy on that team plays so well within their system that you don’t notice superstar standout individuals.