It will be forever a fact that for a period of time, albeit a brief one, during the 2010 NFL season Javon Ringer had more rushing touchdowns than Chris Johnson.
As it turned out, though, Ringer’s 15-yard scoring burst with 3:45 to go in the second quarter effectively was a sound-check.
It was Johnson who officially pumped up the volume on the Tennessee Titans’ opener and electrified the sellout crowd at LP Field with a 76-yard touchdown run two minutes later. He eventually added one more touchdown as he officially launched his 16-week Quest For Another 2000 tour with 142 rushing yards and helped the Titans – in direct contrast to a year ago – start the season on a high note, specifically a 38-13 romp over the Oakland Raiders.
“I did happen to score first, didn’t I?” Ringer said. “I’m just trying to keep following C.J.’s footsteps and make sure that whenever he needs a blow that our offense keeps doing the things we need to do.”
As it turned out, he was the one who showed the way. Likely nothing better illustrated the fact that this was no Lady Gaga-like show in which Johnson was the central figure in an updated version of a familiar format.
This was more like a Rolling Stones effort. The third-year running back and the NFL’s 2009 offensive MVP merely was part of a band that rolled out many of its greatest hits from years gone by – and the crowd couldn’t have been happier.
“We played Tennessee Titan football out there,” said wide receiver Nate Washington, whose 56-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter made it 7-3 and put the Titans ahead to stay. “This is not one-on-one out there out there. This is not two-on-one. We just have to continue to do the things we know will make us successful.”
The running game – long a staple anytime the curtain rises on Tennessee – was front-and-center throughout the contest. Of the 58 offensive snaps, 39 were rushes, which accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 345 yards of total offense and nearly 60 percent of the 17 first downs.
Curiously, though, no one pulled Johnson off the stage when it seemed his time had passed. The Titans went ahead 38-6 on the first play of the fourth quarter, but he carried five times over two possessions (he added seven yards) after that.
“We never think that things are well in hand,” Washington said. “The coaches and our team ... we’re not going to sit back on anyone. We understand that this is a league where when you get them you just have to continue to get them.
“We show everyone respect, but at the same time we just have to continue work.”
Additionally, the defense displayed the ability to force turnovers that has been a hallmark of the Titans’ best seasons. Safeties Michael Griffin (fumble recovery) and Chris Hope (interception) each came up with takaways that led directly to touchdowns.
The bass line that drove the defensive effort came from the front four – the defensive ends and tackles – who routinely got pressure on quarterback Jason Campbell without the aid of blitzes and forced Oakland’s offensive line to play jittery and uncertain.
Campbell was sacked four times, three by Titans’ defensive ends, and the Raiders were called for three false starts and two delay of game penalties.
“Last year we didn’t get as much pressure as we wanted, and that made it tough on the secondary,” defensive end Jacob Ford said. “I think we played Titans’ football. We ran the ball, we played good defense. … It was a pretty good win.”
Familiar as it was, it was not completely lacking in innovation.
Tennessee’s first offensive snap was a reverse option, which quarterback Vince Young turned into a 20-yard gain. Young’s pitch outlet on the play was – of course – Johnson.
Coaches went back to it in the second quarter, and that time Young gave up the ball to Johnson for a five-yard gain. Yet it was on the ensuing snap that Ringer ripped off his touchdown run – a basic blast off tackle behind fullback Ahmard Hall – that set the stage for the rout that eventually developed.
“Confidence-wise, it’s huge,” guard Jake Scott said. “If you’re 0-1, you have to win two games to get above .500. At 1-0, you’re already above .500. It’s a good thing to get started with a win, especially in an AFC game – so that’s a one-up for us.”
Now they have to see how many encores they can manage.