JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Tennessee’s Chris Johnson and Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew set an NFL rushing record the last time they shared a field.
They gave the league its first game with four scoring runs of 50 yards or longer last November, dazzling teammates, coaches and fans with broken tackles, breathtaking moves and breakaway speed. Players on both sidelines were hesitant to look away for even a second, feeling like they might miss something special.
Jones-Drew ripped off touchdown runs of 80 and 79 yards, then Johnson got loose for scoring scampers of 52 and 89 yards. Jones-Drew finished with a career-high 177 yards rushing, and Johnson ended his career day with 228 yards on the ground and a victory.
What will they do for an encore Monday night? Don’t expect a repeat performance. Both stars are banged up and both defenses are determined not to let it happen again.
Still, the matchup might be the most important one when the Jaguars (3-2) host the Titans (3-2). After all, the team with more rushing yards has won the last six meetings.
“They’re two different types of runners, obviously,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “But they both accomplish the same thing and that’s make big plays and keep the chains moving, and they have the ability to make the home run every time they take the ball.”
That was evident in Tennessee’s 30-13 win last season.
The speedy and elusive Johnson reeled off big run after big run, gashing the Jaguars up the middle and on the edge. Jacksonville had missed tackles, blown assignments and looks of confusion all around.
“He’s a guy with the explosive ability to make you hurt for it,” coach Jack Del Rio said.
The Jaguars were hardly alone. Johnson finished with the season with 11 consecutive 100-yard performances and became the sixth player in NFL history to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing.
“He’s he was pretty phenomenal,” Del Rio said. “It doesn’t really make me feel any better. He did it to a lot of people, but I don’t want to see him do it to us.”
With teams stacking the line of scrimmage this season, Johnson has been somewhat less explosive. He has 485 yards rushing and six touchdowns, but was held under 60 yards twice — in both of the team’s losses.
“No matter what I say, they’re going to try to do the same thing,” Johnson said. “They’re going to put all those guys in the box and try to stop us because they know we’re a running team, we like to run the ball.”
All that extra attention can take a toll, too.
Johnson was given a day off Thursday because of a sore thigh and was limited Saturday. He was listed as probable for the prime-time game.
Jones-Drew is more beat up, even with his compact, 210-pound frame.
He has surpassed 100 yards just three times in the 14 games since his career day against the Titans, facing constant run blitzes and ending up as a mainstay on the team’s injury report because of knee, ankle and wrist injuries.
He sprained his right wrist Sunday at Buffalo, rolling around in pain and eliciting concern from teammates and coaches. He missed practice Thursday and had his badly swollen hand heavily wrapped. But he returned in full Friday and was listed as probable.
Nonetheless, the nagging injuries have some worried that his bruising running style might be detrimental to his long-term success.
“I’m not 13 like when I first got into the league,” Jones-Drew said. “I’m 18 years old now, so I’m feeling the wear and tear from 13 to 18. It just happens. It’s part of the game. You get banged up, you get clipped here and there. … You’ve got to play through it. You’ve got to be a tough guy at some point.
“I’ve been playing this way for so long it’s kind of second nature. You can’t really just stop one day from biting your nails if you’ve bit your nails your whole life. That’s how I feel. I just keep playing that way because that’s my style of play.”
Regardless of the injuries, some people expect more highlights Monday night.
Earnest Byner coached both backs the last two years, serving as Tennessee’s running backs coach in 2008 and 2009, then taking the same position in Jacksonville. He tried to stir things up this week by texting Johnson and telling him that Jones-Drew is planning to win the rematch.
“Coach Byner is just stirring up the pot,” Jones-Drew said. “If it happens, I’ll be happy. And if it doesn’t and we win, I’ll still be happy. If I outrush him and we lose, what’s the point? … I know there are a lot of individual battles and a lot of people want to get into that, which is OK. I would love to do better than him, but that’s not going to help us win the game.”