KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For one moment, the quiet man could be heard for miles.
With 11:48 left in a three-point game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns, tailback Chris Ogbonnaya cut out of the backfield and across the middle, settling into a short bit of free real estate just beyond the line of scrimmage.
His eyes met those of quarterback Jason Campbell. The Cleveland running back turned, graceful as a deer, to receive the short throw.
Then the semi hit him.
“I was in zone coverage, and just read Campbell’s eyes and Chris Ogbonnaya’s eyes,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson would say later as he recalled his little roadkill moment, the slobber-knocking jewel of a slobber-knocking 23-17 victory over Cleveland. “Just had to give him a little taste of what we do over here with the Chiefs.”
“I mean, he plays ball — he’s a playmaker, he does it all,” safety Eric Berry said of the Chiefs’ middle linebacker.
“He breaks up passes. You saw him break up a pass (Sunday). You see him making plays in the backfield, you saw him just roaming around and doing great things. That’s the type of player we need out of DJ, and he’s going to bring it every week, man. It’s not like a one-time thing. That’s what he does.”
The line: Twelve solo tackles, two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit and a pass break-up. There might’ve been better afternoons, more memorable afternoons, sexier afternoons, sure. After all, Derrick Johnson games are like Lou Reed songs: There are so many good ones, so much consistency over years and years and years, how do you isolate a chosen few?
“Yeah, I’ve seen everything — the good, the bad, the ugly,” said Johnson, the nine-year veteran out of Texas, who moved his career tackle count to 935, third all-time in Chiefs annals, passing Deron Cherry (927) along the way. “But that’s why our character is so strong, because of what we’ve been through.
“But we’ve (also) been working our butts off. I don’t want to say we deserve to be 8-0, but this is what it is, and we’re riding with it.”
In good times and bad, 56 is 56, cleaning up, sideline to sideline, without much noise, without much fanfare. The rock. The standard. The backbone of the best defense in the NFL.
“He’s the (old guy) of the defense,” Berry continued. “Man, just to see how he’s consistent throughout all of this stuff. He’s always kept a positive attitude, regardless of what’s going on. He’s always played hard, regardless of our record. And it just shows. I mean, his character shows and his leadership shows.”
Teammates love the dude. Coaches love the dude. Metrics love the dude. Heading into the weekend, ProFootballFocus.com graded Johnson out as third-best in the NFL among inside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme. Before Week 8, the site ranked him ninth among middle or inside ‘backers in terms of percentage (13.2) of quality run stops — that is, those that prevent first downs — to the total run snaps played.
“Everybody knows Derrick is one of the best linebackers in the league, and he just shows it, game in and game out,” said Chiefs defensive end Mike DeVito, one of DJ’s new running mates. “You’ve seen it (Sunday).
“It’s really impressive to watch out there — just always making plays. And you love having a guy like that. You want to go out and play for a guy like that. He’s a great leader, a guy that I have a lot of respect for.”
Sunday was the fifth contest of at least seven total tackles for Johnson in eight games this fall. It’s the 15th tilt with at least seven stops in his past 24 contests. In fact, with a pace of at least seven stops per game and eight games left to play, the 30-year-old defender has a fighting shot at toppling the franchise’s No. 1 man on the career tackle list, Gary Spani (who racked up 999 from 1978-86), before the season’s done.
“I didn’t know that. Good deal,” Johnson said. “I’m just trying to stay healthy and get better every game and keep winning with my teammates. And the tackles (are) going to come. And (Sunday), I racked up a few, so hopefully, I can just keep climbing that list.”
You might not hear the footsteps. But you’ll feel the contact. The Chiefs are up. The Chiefs are down. The Chiefs are up again. DJ keeps the same steady, remarkable beat.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.