His protégé, rookie Sam Hubbard, responded with his first touchdown about nine minutes after that, just five weeks into his NFL career.
Johnson stood in front of his locker later that afternoon, sweat still streaming down his face, and explained the wacky play that capped a 17-point comeback to tie the game before the Bengals pulled out a 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
The Dolphins lost left tackle Laremy Tunsil to a concussion, which left Johnson up against swing tackle Sam Young. Johnson easily beat Young off the edge and had a bead on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
"I think it makes a difference when you lose a tackle at this level of football like that, and they didn’t seem to want to help the guy when they left the guy out there," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "Our guys did a nice job, whether it was pressure or holding or whatever. We had blood in the water, and we went after it."
Young appeared to recover enough to give Johnson a little shove, pushing him off his mark. Johnson missed the sack and slid on the ground, landing on his knees.
As Johnson was getting up, nose tackle Andrew Billings was shedding his block and taking aim at Tannehill. Billings was on top of Tannehill when he tried to force a throw. It bounced off tight end Durham Smythe’s head and into the arms of Johnson, who turned around and scampered to the end zone.
Billings didn’t even know where the ball was as he pulled Tannehill down.
"I never saw it. I was already focused on the sack," he said. "I was just going to hit him or keep pressure (on him). I looked up and he had the ball in his hands. I was like ‘All right then!'
"We got something. We’ve really got something out here man."
"When you’re out there playing, it’s a blur," Johnson said. "You’re just trying to play as hard as you can. You’re just going. You’re playing hard and letting your ability and the technique take over. I can’t tell you exactly what happened. I know I missed him and then I was still trying to chase him, and all of a sudden, the ball is right there."
Said defensive end Carlos Dunlap: "M.J. never gave up on the play, and he was able to finish it off in the end zone. It was amazing."
"Thank God I was able to hold on to it, and waddle into the end zone," Johnson said.
Johnson brought the ball back to the sideline for safekeeping and intends to give it to his 5-year-old son, whose birthday was Sunday. But if possible, he may have been even more excited about Hubbard’s play. Johnson, 31, has grown close to the rookie and said he feels like he’s even been learning new things from him.
Their relationship could have been awkward considering they play the same position, but Johnson felt connected to Hubbard from the beginning. It was Johnson who announced the Bengals’ third-round pick in the 2018 draft.
"I’ve learned stuff from him. Hopefully he’s learned things from me," Johnson said. "They’re very well-coached at Ohio State, so little stuff that he’ll mention. Even though this is my 10th year, sometimes he says things I hadn’t thought about or hadn’t heard."
The mild-mannered Johnson may have been more excited about Hubbard’s touchdown than he was about his own, and not just because it effectively ended the game.
The Bengals had a 20-17 lead on the Dolphins with 2:40 left in the game. The Dolphins were facing third-and-17 on their own 18. Dunlap shed his block and came up behind Tannehill, swatting the ball away as he cocked his arm back. The ball went backwards into the arms of Hubbard, who ran in for a 19-yard touchdown.
"It was crazy. Credit to Carlos Dunlap for knocking the ball out. It fell right into my hands. All I had to do was run straight," Hubbard said.
Added Dunlap: "I was going for the ball. I don’t want him to be able to throw it. He was trying to make a big play for his team. I made it that far and I wanted to finish the play off."