Victorious Texans back struggling Titans running back

Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 9:31pm

At times during Sunday’s 41-7 loss to the Houston Texans, it seemed as if there was no one at LP Field who supported Chris Johnson. Increasingly as the game progressed, the Tennessee Titans running back heard a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball.

When it was over, though, the Texans had their say.

“It is tough and he is getting a lot of criticism right now,” Houston running back Arian Foster said. “But when you don’t go through training camp, you can run all day but football shape is football shape. It takes a while. It wouldn’t surprise me if he bounces back the rest of the season.

“… The NFL is a soap opera. … When you are talented as he is, you have a target on your chest. Defenses gameplan for you and it makes it tougher. These are some of the best athletes in our country. It is going to be tough treading out there. That is just the game we play. But he is one of the better backs in our league.”

The Titans briefly made Johnson the highest-paid running back in the league after he sat out all of training camp and missed all four preseason contests. Following his performance against Houston (10 carries, 18 yards), he had just 268 yards and one touchdown on 99 carries for the season.

He insists the boos do not bother him but he clearly was troubled by something following the contest.

“Basically, you have to look at, if you’re watching the game and you really can’t tell what’s going on with the run game, then obviously you really don’t know football,” he said. “You just see what is going on.”

When pressed for specifics about what he sees, he declined but did say he did not consider himself central to the problem.

Houston’s players, on the other hand, were quick to come to his defense.

“I think he is very capable still,” linebacker Brian Cushing said. “He is an explosive football player. I don’t know whether it is the change in the offensive coordinator, missing camp or whatever. I just think he hasn’t gotten in his groove yet.”

Wide‘ouch’: Damian Williams made his third start in place of the injured Kenny Britt but caught just one pass for five yards. He left the game late in the second quarter after he was shaken up as he failed to make a catch on a deep throw down the middle.

“He got the wind knocked out of him, I think, when he fell on the one,” coach Mike Munchak said. “I think he had a headache the same time that happened so the decision was not to play him from there. … Obviously, we were very thin at receiver after that happened.”

Titans wide receivers combined for five receptions. Johnson had a team-high six, several of them when he was split out of the backfield.

Walk the line: Rookie cornerback Tommie Campbell was called for two penalties while covering punts.

Both were in connection to the sideline — the first because he ran out of bounds on his own and the second for not attempting to get back on the field in a timely manner after he was blocked out of bounds.

Quote of note: “All I can say is we got embarrassed. Embarrassed in our own backyard. That’s the toughest part about this — being embarrassed. We have a real bad taste in our mouth right now. We need to get this taste out of our mouths. No team is going to look at us as a team that won three games straight.” — Titans safety Michael Griffin, on the loss.

Notable numbers: 0 — wins by Tennessee against the AFC South in as many tries this season.

2 — Houston backs who topped 100 yards rushing in the game: Arian Foster, 115 yards; Ben Tate, 104 yards. That’s one more 100-yard effort than the Titans have had all season.

7 — punts by Tennessee’s Brett Kern, which matched his season-high. Both times have been against AFC South opponents, the first was the in the opener at Jacksonville.

14 — first downs rushing by Houston. Tennessee had allowed a total of 14 in the previous three games combined.

941 — career receptions, the 11th highest total in league history, by Derrick Mason, the former Titan acquired by Houston in a trade a little more than a week ago. Mason entered the contest tied with Art Monk and made one catch for seven yards.