Just as he ran away from NFL defenders this season, Chris Johnson ran away with the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award on Wednesday, garnering 38 ½ of a possible 50 votes.
The Tennessee Titans running back finished the season with 2,006 yards rushing and became the first player in NFL history to have more than 2,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season. That accomplishment also broke Marshall Faulk’s league record for yards from scrimmage in a single season.
“It feels like a big dream. It is all hitting me now — what I have done this whole season. I can sit back now and say, ‘Wow, I really had a dream season.’ All of the hard work is really paying off.”
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished a distant second in the balloting with nine votes. The award is conducted by the Associated Press and voted upon by a number of sportswriters and sportscasters who regularly follow the NFL.
Johnson, in just his second season in the NFL out of East Carolina, was the focal point of the Titans offense, especially after the team’s 0-6 start.
Beginning with Tennessee’s embarrassing 59-0 loss at New England, Johnson strung together 11 consecutive 100-yard rushing games, including a franchise best 228-yard effort against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Nov. 1.
He also became the first player ever to have three touchdown runs of 85 yards or more in a season.
“He’s special. He has the potential to go the distance and change games and do those kinds of things,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of Johnson.
Johnson’s efforts also spearheaded a turnaround for the Titans, who shrugged off the 0-6 start by winning eight of their final 10 games to become the first team to finish 8-8 after such a bad beginning.
Johnson said he was somewhat surprised to win the award, but very pleased to have done so.
“I woke up this morning and got the call that I had won the award. I am very honored to get the award,” he said. “To be honest, I really didn’t think I would get it. It makes it even better, because I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
Johnson, 24, was unhappy last year at finishing behind Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the voting for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He gained 1,228 yards as a rookie.
So in 2009, he set his sights higher, including the goal of 2,000 yards rushing, something only five other running backs in NFL history had done. His efforts earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl as well.
This year, Johnson expressed disappointment over not getting any votes for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award, which went to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning for the fourth time in his career.
“I didn’t even get one vote for the MVP out of 50 people, so why would they vote for me for offensive player of the year?” Johnson said. “And all five guys that got votes for MVP were offensive players.”
Johnson finished the season by gaining 134 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in the regular-season finale to go over the 2,000-yard mark.
He said the recognition of that accomplishment is beginning to bloom.
“It is starting to be like when I go out in Nashville. People are starting to recognize me as being a big player in the NFL,” Johnson said. “I can start to put my name up there with some of the big-time players in the NFL.”