Cardinals’ Chris Johnson shows he’s not done yet
TEMPE, Ariz. — Chris Johnson put on another big show on Monday night, just like he used to.
The running back, who acknowledges he was thinking about calling it quits after suffering a gunshot wound in the offseason, rushed for 122 yards in just 18 carries in the Cardinals’ 26-18 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has a knack for finding older players ready to settle for a one-year contract to show they still have what it takes to prosper in the NFL. Johnson might be his biggest find yet.
"I love Monday night," Johnson said. "Everyone around the world is watching. I like playing night games. It is a different energy for not just me but the whole team. It is a different energy when you play on Monday night."
It was Johnson’s seventh Monday night game since he entered the league as a rookie with the Tennessee Titans in 2008. In those seven contests, he has averaged 103 yards per game. A lot of people got to see the Chris Johnson many thought was gone for good.
"I think it’s huge," coach Bruce Arians said at his day-after news conference Tuesday. "Anytime someone has a big game on Monday night football, it’s street cred throughout the league. Everyone wants to shine on Monday night, and he has a pretty good history of being pretty good on Monday night."
A month past his 30th birthday, Johnson is the latest older player looking to prove he still has it to be scooped up by Keim on a short-term contract.
It was a veteran’s minimum deal plus incentives. Johnson was supposed to split time with Andre Ellington and rookie David Johnson.
But Ellington was hurt in the season opener and Chris Johnson became the No. 1 back, strengthening his grip on the job with every outing.
Monday night was Johnson’s third 100-yard rushing performance of the season, something last accomplished for Arizona when Edgerrin James did it in 2007. And there are nine games remaining to add a few more.
Two of the runs were big. The first he bounced outside for a 26-yard touchdown scamper. The second, he landed on top of a beefy defender after a short gain and, sitting on the guy’s stomach, realized he wasn’t down. Johnson bolted up and dashed downfield for a 62-yard gain.
Johnson ranks second in the NFL in yards rushing with 567, 54 fewer than Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman. Among backs with at least 100 carries, Johnson leads the league at 5.1 yards per attempt.
"He’s still got it, I’ll tell you that," Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said after Monday night’s game. "That defense notices it. Every defense we’ve lined up against knows when he’s in the backfield and when he’s not. Just a great player. For a while, he was one of the most dominant players in the NFL, and he can still dominate a game like he did today."
Johnson played his first six seasons with the Titans. In 2009, he rushed for more than 2,000 yards, one of seven players in NFL history to accomplish that feat. He rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his seasons in Tennessee, but parted ways after the 2013 season, signing a free agent deal with the New York Jets. Things did not go the way he thought they would. He carried the ball a career-low 155 times, 43 fewer than teammate Chris Ivory did. Johnson’s average yards per carry was a respectable 4.3, but his season total was a career-worst 663. The Jets released him.
Then came that early morning in Orlando, when shots were fired into the van in which Johnson was riding. One person was killed. Johnson and another man were wounded. Johnson has said he believes he would have been killed had he not bent over to look at a text on his phone just as the shots were fired. He still has a bullet in his shoulder.
Johnson said he couldn’t move his arm for a time and thought about quitting. The movement returned and he decided to work out with Jay Glazer in California to get back in shape.
Johnson is sure the shooting scared teams away, until Keim gave him a chance.
That backstory was there for anyone to see when Johnson took off running Monday night.
"I think it just added more ice cream on top of his cake," Arians said.
Notes: Arians said he expects CB Jerraud Powers to be out two weeks with a hamstring injury. That could mean he misses only one game. The Cardinals have a bye after next Sunday’s game at Cleveland.