One way for Chris Johnson to improve his start to the 2011 season would be to finish Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens at LP Field.
The last time he faced one of the NFL’s stingiest run defenses — a divisional playoff game following the 2008 season — he did not even make it to halftime.
An ankle injury sent him to the sidelines in the second quarter, and there he stayed as the Titans were eliminated with a 13-10 defeat after having gone a league-best 13-3 during the regular season.
The score was tied 7-7 when he was injured on a four-yard run with just over seven minutes to play in the second quarter. Even in that abbreviated appearance, he had 72 rushing yards on 11 carries and 28 yards on one reception.
“Somebody landed on my ankle the wrong way and I fell back the wrong way,” Johnson said. “It was a fair play when I got hurt.”
Earlier on that same drive, it appeared that the Ravens got dirty in an attempt to knock him from the contest. Two Baltimore players had him around the ankles, when a third, safety Ed Reed, grabbed Johnson from behind and bent him back over the pile.
“Chris didn’t get hurt on that play,” Reed said Wednesday. “He got his back stretched out a little bit, but that wasn’t the play that hurt his ankle. … I talked to [Johnson] after that and everything was in-between the whistle. It’s never intentional to take any guy out. My game has never been like that I know these guys don’t play like that either.”
Johnson said he harbored no ill will about either incident but more than two years later still considered Reed’s act an attempt to injure.
“They were trying to hurt me a little bit, but when they were actually trying to do it, it didn’t happen,” he said. “… I wouldn’t say they’re a dirty team. It was a playoff game and in a playoff game teams will do whatever it takes to win.”
It is no secret that the Titans’ best chance to win this one and to even their record under coach Mike Munchak is to hand the ball to Johnson more often than it did in the season-opening 16-14 loss at Jacksonville last Sunday.
In that one, he had just nine carries, only four or five of which, he said, that “really mattered,” for 24 yards. Only once in his career has he run it less often.
Going into that game, there were concerns about his ability to handle a full workload given that he missed all of training camp and the preseason while he held out in an attempt to get a new contract, which he finally did.
As it turned out, his limited effort ultimately was a product of other factors within the contest.
“I felt good, actually I surprised myself a little bit on Sunday,” Johnson said. “Just being out there and seeing how hot it was, when I actually did get the ball and ran around a little bit I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be. I could have [handled] more carries.”
The Titans would like to let him prove that against the Ravens, who have allowed an average of fewer than four yards per rush all 15 seasons they have been in existence, which matches the longest such streak in NFL history. They also had a stretch of 39 straight games, which covered two full seasons (2007 and 2008) and parts of two others (2006 and 2009) in which they did not allow a 100-yard rusher.
“I’m hoping that we do get to run the ball quite a bit,” coach Mike Munchak said. “…This is a team where you are not going to get a lot of five-yard runs. … We may get the big run in the fourth quarter, third quarter; I don’t know where it’s going to come, but you have to assume that we will get enough opportunities to do that in the run game.”
The odds of that happening later in game — or anytime, for that matter — are better if Johnson is on the field and not on the sideline.
“I expect him to be at his best,” Reed said.