Chris Johnson showed signs of life Thursday night – in more than one way.
After two straight sluggish performances, the Tennessee Titans running back broke through against the Indianapolis Colts, rushing 22 times for 111 yards in a 30-28 loss at LP Field.
“It was good to see him going again,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.
Less than two weeks ago at Houston, Johnson had just five yards on seven carries. On Sunday against Jacksonville, he improved but was still well below his norm, with just 53 rushing yards on 13 attempts.
Against the Colts, though, he was able to get well beyond the line of scrimmage and put his moves and speed on display.
Plus, his 1-yard touchdown with 49 seconds left in the first half ended a 14-quarter offensive touchdown drought for the Titans (5-8).
“I feel like the offense got back on track,” Johnson said. “We got back to what we are known for doing and that is running the ball. Running the ball is very important. Once you run the ball, you open up the passing game.”
The passing game included Johnson as well.
Quarterback Kerry Collins connected with him eight times for 68 yards – both season-highs. Five of Johnson’s catches came in the fourth quarter and four were on the Titans’ last drive when they were trying to punch in a late score.
Johnson said the Titans didn’t plan on using him that much as a receiver but they adjusted to what the Colts’ defense schemed.
“When we came out in the first couple series we saw how they were playing us and how linebackers were dropping deep in the cover eight. They weren’t really covering me much,” he said. “They were dropping back in the zone so we made an adjustment pretty much on the sideline.”
Johnson’s longest play of the night –a 37-yard run in which he shook off a couple tackles – came in the fourth quarter and set up the Titans’ third touchdown. It was his longest run since breaking off a 42-yarder at Dallas on Oct. 10.
“We have been close the past couple weeks and he finally broke a few (Thursday) night,” right tackle David Stewart said. “Just little things (were the difference) and they lined up and he was able to break a few.”
Through 13 games Johnson has 1,137 rushing yards, nothing to be ashamed of, but well off from his projected mark. After rushing for more than 2,000 yards in 2009 he set a goal of 2,500 yards this season.
With three different quarterbacks, injuries to the receiving corps and a passing offense that has struggled at times, that task was made even harder for Johnson. With defenses loading up at the line of scrimmage, the 5-foot-11, 191-pounder is finding it harder to scrape for yards.
Against the Colts, though, Johnson broke free enough to make a dent, perhaps giving the Titans a glimmer of hope amidst a six-game losing streak.
“We have a tremendous running game,” running back Javon Ringer said. “The last couple weeks, one of the main reasons why we haven’t been able to establish that is because we haven’t stayed on the field long enough. Coach Fisher has been talking about we need to bounce back and I feel that is what we did. The Tennessee Titans are a running team and that is what we did.”
• High profile backup: Kenny Britt played for the first time after missing four games with a hamstring injury. Not only did he start ahead of Randy Moss, he got the vast majority of playing time at that position.
Moss did not play a snap in the first or third quarters and did not have a ball thrown his way the entire contest.
“Kenny was a starter here and he came back,” Fisher said. “I’m pleased with everything Randy has done. … They’re playing the same position and so we try our best to rotate them. But Kenny was feeling good and he made some plays for us.”
Britt led all Titans’ receivers with four catches for 39 yards. He also lost a second-quarter fumble, which led to Indianapolis’ second touchdown.
• Persona non grata: Injured Titans’ quarterback Vince Young was not on the sideline, and presumably was not in the stadium, during the contest.
“We all miss VY,” tight end Bo Scaide said. “He’s our guy. He’s like our brother. … I know he’s doing all right. I know it’s hard for him to watch us, but we all wish he could be here.
“He’s probably trying to stay away from (the media). It’s hard for him to show his face and not get asked questions. … It’s probably better for him to stay away so the focus is not on him.”
• The Titans came up on the short end of time of possession for the seventh straight game. Their 27:29 was the most at any point in that stretch, however.
• Collins tied his season-high with three touchdown passes. He now has eight in nine appearances with six of those eight in just two games (Philadelphia, Indianapolis).
His third was the 200th of his career, which made him the 31st player in NFL hisory to reach that mark.
• Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne became the seventh different receiver to top 100 yards against the Titans this season. Wayne caught four passes for 106 yards, including one for 50 yards.