Chris Johnson’s streak of consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards or more ended at 12 – the second-longest in NFL history – Sunday in the Tennessee Titans’ 19-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But the 2009 Offensive Player of the Year was a lot closer to extending that mark than his final stats (16 carries, 34 yards) suggest. He broke free for an 85-yard touchdown run in the second quarter but the play was nullified by a holding penalty called against center Eugene Amano.
“When they took it away, it just took everything,” Johnson said. “It was like a dagger in our heart or whatever, and from then on everything started going downhill. So I think that kind of took the breath out of us.”
At the time, the Titans trailed 10-3 and the touchdown (with the subsequent extra point) would have tied it. Instead, they punted three plays later, gave up a field goal before halftime and got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Officially, Johnson’s longest run of the day was 11 yards, which came on the first play of the second half. He ran it just five more times after that.
“Our plan coming in was to try to keep Chris Johnson contained,” Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison said. “If we got beat, it was going to be by the quarterback position. We wanted to keep him contained to where he could not scat out and run around us.”
Johnson has failed to rush for 100 yards in three career games against Pittsburgh.
• Fight to the finish: Half of the Titans’ 14 first downs came on the 17-play, 85-yard drive that ended with Nate Washington’s 2-yard touchdown reception.
They followed that with a two-point conversion (a Kerry Collins to Kenny Britt pass) that got them within eight, 19-11, and then recovered an onside kick. They added one more first down and drove to the Pittsburgh 41 before time ran out.
“We kept fighting – that was the one thing,” Collins said. “We had an opportunity to make it interesting, and guys kept playing – and you’ve got to in that situation. But it’s unfortunate we had put ourselves in that position.”
• Tricky, tricky: Jeff Fisher said the Titans were prepared for the Steelers’ ploy on the opening kickoff, which resulted in an 89-yard return for a touchdown and a deficit that Tennessee never overcame.
“They ran a reverse,” Fisher said. “We recognized it. It was communicated. … It was one of those things that happens at the beginning of a ballgame.”
Mewelde Moore fielded the kick and started to his left with Antonio Brown as his lead blocker to the left side. Suddenly, Brown spun to his outside shoulder, reversed field, took a handoff from Moore and ran untouched up the right sideline for the score.
“We were trying to create splash plays,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “… We had several things dialed up and ready to go that we felt like could help us change field position. That’s how we chose to start the game.
• Quote of note: “I have never been in a game with quite so many turnovers, but it was a good job by our defense. We were hawking after the ball all day and they were careless with it. So we took advantage of it.” – Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior.
• Getting started: Justin Gage did not catch a ball in the opener against Oakland, but the veteran wide receiver had receptions on the Titans’ first two offensive plays against the Steelers.
He finished with four receptions for a game-high 74 yards.
• Inactives: Defensive end William Hayes was inactive for the second straight week despite the fact that he practiced Thursday and Friday. He missed the entire preseason due to a knee injury sustained early in training camp and was considered questionable for this contest.
Also inactive were: safeties Robert Johnson and Nick Schommer, linebacker Rennie Curran, tackle Mike Otto, guard Ryan Durand, wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins and emergency, third-string quarterback Rusty Smith.
Pittsburgh’s inactives were: linebackers Thaddeus Gibson and Jason Worilds running back Jonathan Dwyer, cornerback Crezdon Butler, guard Ramon Foster, tackle Max Starks, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and defensive tackle Casey Hampton.
• Linebacker Will Witherspoon has a sack in each of his first two games with the Titans. Both have been within the first five minutes of the contest.
• Six of Nate Washington’s eight touchdowns as a member of the Titans have come in September games, including one each in the two thus far in 2010.
• Rookie Marc Mariani returned both a punt and a kickoff better than 30 yards. His first kickoff return went for 34 yards before he fumbled. His first punt return, a little more than eight minutes later, went for 38 yards.