Chris Johnson’s debut came a little earlier than most Tennessee Titans fans anticipated on Sunday.
While most expected Johnson to see his share of carries in splitting time with LenDale White, it was a bit surprising to see the rookie from East Carolina go out with the first unit, especially after White had been introduced as the pre-game starter.
Johnson made an immediate impact on the game, rambling 18 yards on a counter play to the left after getting the pitch from quarterback Vince Young. He later added another 18 yard run, as well as a 20-yard reception and a seven-yard touchdown pass from Young that gave Tennessee a 10-7 lead.
“Actually, they said LenDale was the starter, but I knew during the week that was the first play we were going to run. I knew I would have the first play when we went out on the field,” Johnson said.
In all, Johnson finished with 93 yards on 15 rushes and added 34 more yards on three receptions. Johnson’s debut was successful enough that it was the most rushing yards by any Oilers/Titans rookie in his first game since Earl Campbell put up 137 yards against Atlanta in the season opener in 1978. Eddie George, who was the Titans’ honorary captain Sunday, had 50 yards in his first NFL game.
“He’s a special player. He’s going to have a hell of a career,” receiver Justin McCareins mused.
On his first NFL touchdown, Johnson drifted out into the flat and bent over to catch a low pass from Young, somehow keep his balance and stumbling into the end zone.
“I wanted the touchdown bad,” Johnson said. “I scored in preseason, but that doesn’t matter. I wanted to get on the board in the regular season.”
CECIL OUT: Tennessee Titans defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil was not with the coaching staff for Sunday’s game.
Cecil was serving a one-game suspension levied by the NFL under its personal conduct policy for a reckless driving charge he pled guilty to in the off-season.
Cecil was originally charged with a DUI in September 2007, but the charge was eventually reduced to a reckless driving plea.
INJURIES: Young left the game with 4:17 to play when his left knee buckled after he threw a pass to LenDale White that was dropped. Young was on crutches and spent a great deal of time in the trainer’s room after the game.
His status is not yet known for next Sunday’s game with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth exited the game in the first quarter with a concussion, but returned to finish the game, capping the victory with a sack on the final play of the game, the last of seven by the Titans.
“I just can’t remember most of the game,” Haynesworth said. “I remember the last play of the game. I had to ask somebody the score.”
Haynesworth said trainers wanted him to stay out of the game, but he insisted on going back and trying to finish.
“It’s football. Seven years, and it’s the first time I’ve ever gotten a concussion,” Haynesworth said. “I’ve just got a headache. I would still play. They wanted me to stay out, but I didn’t think that would be a good thing for me. I wanted to finish the game.”
Defensive end Jacob Ford suffered a sternum injury in the game as well.
DOUBLING UP: Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard threw only three interceptions all of last season, but Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan got to him twice on Sunday.
Finnegan, listed at 5-10, outjumped Jacksonville’s Troy Williamson, who is 6-1, on a deep ball for his first interception in the first half.
“I was like, ‘Don’t let him catch it.” We talked about it in our defensive backroom, and you definitely don’t want to give up the deep ball,” Finnegan said.
His second pick came when he apparently beat Matt Jones to the spot on an in route and intercepted the ball.
BIG DAY: Of the Titans seven sacks, six came from the defensive line. Tony Brown and Haynesworth had two each, while Kyle Vanden Bosch had a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery on one play. Backup defensive tackles Jason Jones and Kevin Vickerson shared one sack, while defensive back Michael Griffin had the other one.
“We don’t want anybody to think last year was a fluke with us making it to the playoffs,” Brown said of the defense’s strong effort. “At the same time, we want to come out and be the defense we know we can be and have fun and win our matchups and just continue to put pressure on quarterbacks.”
LOTS OF WORK: Punter Craig Hentrich punted seven times Sunday for 300 total yards and an average of 42.9 yards per kick. His net was 30.7, made lower by two touchbacks.