SEATTLE — A questionable holding call kept Chris Johnson from having a chance to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, but neither an official’s flag nor the Seattle Seahawks could keep the Tennessee Titans star from reaching the 2,000-yard rushing club as its sixth member Sunday at Qwest Field.
Johnson ran for 134 yards on a career-high 36 carries in Tennessee’s 17-13 victory, reaching the milestone on a four-yard carry with 9:50 to play in the game and finishing with 2,006 yards rushing for the season.
Johnson joined Dickerson, Jamal Lewis, Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson in the 2,000-yard rushing club — running fifth, finishing three yards ahead of O.J.
“It means a lot for me to get 2,000 yards, only the sixth player ever to do it, and especially that we got the win today and we finished up 8-8,” Johnson said.
Earning the victory wasn’t enough to push the Titans into the playoff chase — that disappeared last week — but as a consolation, Tennessee is the first team in league history to finish .500 after an 0-6 start.
Johnson not only reached the milestone, but also shattered Marshall Faulk’s record for yards from scrimmage, finishing with 2,509 for the season, 80 yards better than Faulk’s 1999 mark. In the process of that, Johnson became the first player in NFL history to have 2,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. And on top of that, he erased Earl Campbell’s 1,934-yard season in 1980 from the Oilers/Titans record book as the best in team history.
Running backs coach Earnest Byner, who coached Lewis in his 2,000-yard season in 2003, said Johnson’s milestone of being the first with 2,000 yards rushing and 500 receiving makes the moment even more special.
“I was there in Baltimore with Jamal when he went over 2,000, so I’ve had some familiarity as far as dealing with some of it,” Byner said. “But to do something that nobody else in the league has done with the 2,000 and the 500, that right here within itself speaks volumes for him and for us.”
Johnson’s teammates basked in his accomplishments as well, reveling in having blocked for a 2,000-yard running back. Sunday was also Johnson's 11 straight 100-yard rushing game, tying Marcus Allen for second all-time behind Sanders, who had 14 in his 2,000-yard season in 1997. Center Kevin Mawae, who completed his 16th NFL season, was especially touched by the magnitude of Johnson’s feats this season.
“It’s pretty special. To only be the sixth guy and the sixth team to do this, and be part of an offensive line to do it, it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Mawae said. “This is probably ranked No. 1 in my accomplishments in football right now. The only thing I haven’t done is won a Super Bowl.”
Tight end Alge Crumpler put the accomplishment in context, regarding the special running backs who never reached the 2,000 plateau.
“If you go back and look at a lot of the greatest running backs in history, a lot of them never even got to that point,” Crumpler said. “You know, Emmitt [Smith], Sweetness [Walter Payton], Jim Brown. I’m a historian of the game. There were goals that were still able to be reached, and we were able to accomplish them.”
Johnson’s day might have been even bigger, had it not been for a flag from referee Ed Hochuli as Johnson was closing in on the milestone.
Four plays before he crossed the 2,000 threshold, Johnson had a 62-yard touchdown run called back on a holding penalty against fullback Ahmard Hall on Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne that would have put his total at least 50 yards closer to Dickerson. Johnson was credited with a six-yard run on the play, and added six more yards before the drive stalled.
“I was definitely shocked that they called it on me. I was running down the field congratulating C.J. in the end zone and thinking, ‘Man, we can actually get this record of Eric Dickeron’s with a couple more yards.’ I was definitely shocked that it was called on me,” Hall said.
Hochuli explained the call in a pool report after the game.
“The ruling was that he was hooked with both arms at the point of attack, and pulled away from where the ball carrier ran right by him,” Hochuli said.
TheTitans weren’t happy with the call, but were plenty satisfied with the end results of 2,000 yards and a victory.
“I can’t say what it was or I’ll get fined like Chuck,” offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said, referring to defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil’s $20,000 after an unsportsmanlike conduct call against San Diego. “Everybody was [upset], but we got him his yards, and his receptions, and it worked out.”
Mawae was upset about the call as well, saying, "Unless, he got tackled, you just can't make a call like that. ... At the risk of not wanting to get fined, if you're running for a record or a milestone, you've got to let the guys play, unless it's blatantly obvious."
Johnson, who reached 2,000 in just his second year in the NFL, said he would again set his sights on Dickerson’s single-season mark in 2010.
“It’s a little disappointing. We still got 2,000, but that big run that got called back hurt us. But it’s only my second year, so I’m sure I’ll have another opportunity of doing that,” Johnson said.
In terms of winning the game on Sunday, who else but Johnson was the one to do the honors, scoring both Titans touchdowns, the first one to cap the opening drive on a fourth-and-1 play from the 6 and the last one with 4:33 to play from 1-yard out that rallied the Titans from down 13-10 and to the win.
The Titans were happy with the victory that squared their record at .500 after the horrible start.
"It's probably one of the more gratifying years that I've had, just because of the way they hung together and what they did," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "I don't know that I've had many teams that would have been able to overcome that; the uniqueness of the guys in the locker room, they're special."
Especially Chris Johnson.
Or as Crumpler put it, "They expected us to lay down after an 0-6 start, but for him to be prophetic of his goals, ... and for him to get that 2,000 yards, it means a lot."