It's a phone call that no one wants to receive, especially when it's unexpected. Not long after arriving in Jacksonville with his Bills teammates Saturday, Johnson got a phone call informing him that his mother had died unexpectedly that day.
Johnson informed head coach Doug Marrone of his tragic family news and the two talked for a while. Marrone left the decision of whether to play or return home immediately up to Johnson. The Bills leading receiver chose to stay and play on Sunday against the Jaguars.
"When I found out I was already here," said Johnson following Buffalo's 27-20 win over Jacksonville. "I talked to coach and he gave me an option and I felt like I went all week with the boys and whatever I can do to help out the team, I think I should give it my all no matter what. It was tough, but we got the win and I'm happy about that and I'm sure she is happy about that."
"I was made aware of that yesterday and talked to Stevie," said Marrone. "My thoughts with Stevie were, 'Hey my prayers are with you and your family. We're going to take care of you. We're a family.'"
Johnson never told any of his teammates about the loss of his mother Saturday night or prior to the game Sunday. EJ Manuel only found out after Sunday's game had concluded.
"I think it was just him not wanting to be a distraction to the team or have anybody feel bad for him," said Manuel. "He just wanted us to go out here and get this win and thank God we did for him and his mother and his family.
"It says a lot about Stevie. Stevie is a guy that we all look up to, especially us rookies on offense. Stevie is a cool guy for us. He makes a lot of plays for us. He makes huge plays and he's a difference maker in our offense. To find that out… I didn't know. I'm just sorry to hear that."
Johnson clearly appreciated the time his head coach spent with him as the two did not really talk about the upcoming game.
"I spent a lot of time with coach Marrone and we just sat and talked," he said. "We talked about everything. It wasn't about football. I felt good about it. He talked to me like I was his son or something. He made me feel comfortable with my decision whichever way it went, whether it was to fly right back or stay. I felt like we've got business here and I'm here already so let's take care of business and we'll deal with everything else after the game."
Johnson had one reception for four yards in the victory.
"I respected his decision," said Marrone. "It's one of those things that's difficult. I told Stevie I've dealt with it. When you're coaching for a while you deal with a lot of things. I always thought this was the toughest.
"When I was at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy one of my player's fathers passed and I talked to his mom prior to the game and she didn't want me to tell him. So I had to coach him through that game and then I had to tell him afterwards. It's a very difficult, difficult thing."
Johnson admitted that at times it was tough to focus on the game, but felt overall he handled the circumstances well. It's presumed that the receiver will return to his native California for funeral services this week.
The organization typically gives players all the time they need to tend to family matters. During training camp quarterback Kevin Kolb returned to his native Texas after the passing of his grandmother.
"I respect everyone in how they handle it and I try to do the best I can to support it," said Marrone. "We try to do the best we can as an organization from Russ Brandon down to have the resources available to help all of our players."