The only person who really could tell Marshon Lattimore that he was ready to return to play cornerback for the New Orleans Saints, was Marshon Lattimore.
Only he knew how his body felt when it felt "right," and from the time he was injured Oct. 9, it hadn't felt that way – until the week of practice preceding Sunday's game against Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field, a 20-10 Saints victory in which Lattimore absolutely looked like himself.
Against the Eagles, Lattimore returned an interception 12 yards for a touchdown for the final score of the game, defended two passes and had six tackles as New Orleans (7-9) won its third consecutive game.
"All the movement and motion I've got to do at corner, I just knew when I was ready," Lattimore said. "It wasn't like they could tell me, 'You're ready to go back out there.' I had to know for myself, and I felt like I was good (last) week.
"It was hard, because I've been back at practice for like two weeks, and I just didn't feel it. I was mad about that. Really it was just like a leap of faith with this one. I still felt it a little bit, but I had to be out there with my team."
Lattimore injured his ribs and kidney in the Saints' 39-32 victory over Seattle. He didn't require surgery, but the healing process was a tedious one, costing Lattimore more games this season (10) than he'd missed in his previous five seasons combined (eight).
"It's been hard, but this is what comes with it," he said. "The NFL is a rough game. I know this is what's going to come with it; it is what it is. I've just got to get over it, every time I have a situation like this."
"It's been a challenge," Coach Dennis Allen said. "But I also know – I've been with Marshon here since 2017 and he's battled through things before. Last year, he broke a thumb in the first game of the season, had surgery, I think he missed a week and was back right after that. It's just good to have him back. I thought he played well (Sunday), and I'm excited that he's back in the fold."
Having Lattimore back in the fold is a major accomplishment. He possibly could have missed the remainder of the regular season, but worked his way back to the lineup.
"Just wanted to be out there and make a playoff run and all that type of stuff," Lattimore said. "Everybody's been talking to me, asking me how I was doing. It was kind of hard, I had to stay up. I didn't get depressed or anything like that, I just had to stay up and keep fighting through it.
"I've been wanting to come back, but I just wasn't ready."
The proof of his readiness came on the game-sealing interception and touchdown return, on a route that the Eagles previously had run.
"They'd been doing it all game," Lattimore said. "I just picked up on it, when it came to me, I had to get it. I told my team that I owed them from the first half, I owed them that. So I got it done."
"It was huge," Allen said. "He did a great job. I think the DB coaches made a couple of adjustments over there on the sideline, we kind of anticipated what we might get and Latt did a great job of jumping the route and finishing it. That's the other part about it. We've had opportunities throughout the season and we haven't quite finished like we need to. He finished the play."