They had just connected on what they thought was the go-ahead touchdown, the pass that would finally give the Detroit Lions a road win after three years.
Not so fast.
Jay Cutler threw for 372 yards and hit Matt Forte with a late 28-yard touchdown pass, and the Bears beat Detroit 19-14 in the opener after Johnson's apparent touchdown catch was ruled an incompletion.
"The first thing that went through my head was that we finally won in Chicago," Johnson said. "I found out after I sprinted halfway across the field that it didn't count. It is what it is, and now it's over."
Matthew Stafford injured a shoulder at the end of the first half, but the Lions were still in position to pull this one out even after they fell behind late in the game. For a few moments, it looked as if they had done just that.
The Lions had second-and-10 at the 25 with 31 seconds left when Johnson outjumped Chicago's Zackary Bowman in the end zone for an apparent touchdown. Johnson appeared to have gotten both feet down inbound and rolled over before letting the ball go, but a potential winner was ruled an incomplete pass,
"The ruling is that in order for the catch to be completed he has got to maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process of the catch," said referee Gene Steratore.
The call "shocked" Johnson. Asked about his understanding of the rule, he said, "I understand now."
Lions coach Jim Schwartz said the officials got it right.
"The rule is if you're going to the ground in the process of making the catch you need to finish with the football," he said. "He didn't finish with the football. He was (aware) he was trying to come down with it, he had one hand to keep it away from the other guy, he is trying to get his feet down and go to a knee. It wasn't like he was trying to flip it to the official or anything. That's what it is."
Bears coach Lovie Smith said he didn't even see the need for the review, saying "I thought it was cut and dry."
And Hill said: "When the call didn't go in our favor we had to come back and regroup and try again."
After two more incompletions and a knee by Cutler, the Lions walked off the field with their 21st straight road loss since a win at Soldier Field in October 2007, and Schwartz certainly wasn't about to point his finger at the referees.
"The time I stand up here and start blaming officials for a loss is the time I don't need to be doing this anymore," he said.
The real concern for the Lions is Stafford.
His status is in question after he left the game with a right shoulder injury following a blindside sack by Julius Peppers late in the first half, but the Lions were in position to win until Forte hauled in that pass from Cutler with 1:32 left. He crashed to the turf and stayed down for a few moments after making an over-the-shoulder catch along the left side in the end zone.
The Bears outgained the Lions 463-168 but were trailing for most of the day thanks to four turnovers.
"If it wasn't turnovers, it was little things," Cutler said. "I think all of the guys in the huddle knew it. We are on the verge of becoming I think a very good offense. We've got to clear some things up."
Cutler completed 23 of 35 passes, with Forte catching seven for 151 yards — the second most by a Bears running back behind Hall of Famer George McAfee's 157 against the Rams in 1947. Forte's day included an 89-yard screen for a touchdown near the end of the first half, pulling Chicago to 14-10.
Forte's 89-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter is the longest TD from scrimmage by a running back in franchise history.
Moments later, Stafford went down. As he dropped back to pass, he was hit in the shoulder by Peppers and landed on it, the ball coming loose in the process.
Stafford had his arm in a sling as the second half started.