Chris Johnson had plenty of time to sit and reflect this offseason as he recuperated from a gunshot wound, hoping for one more NFL chance.
When he sat down on Monday night, the Cardinals’ running back wasn’t thinking about his career, he was listening for a whistle.
Johnson continued his unexpected resurgence in the 26-18 win over the Ravens, carrying the ball 18 times for 122 yards and a touchdown. The scoring scamper was splendid in itself – Johnson shook off a pair of would-be tacklers and then darted across the field and into the end zone – but it’s his 62-yard run which stole the show.
Late in the third quarter, Johnson took a handoff on first-and-10 from the Cardinals’ 30 and gained four yards before landing on top of Baltimore defensive tackle Brandon Williams. The other 21 players on the field stopped, but as Johnson rose to his feet, he realized his knee had never touched the ground while he sat on top of Williams.
“When I popped up, I kind of paused a little bit and looked around waiting for the whistle to blow,” Johnson said. “It never blew. I just ran.”
While Johnson’s forward progress seemed to be stopped, the officials never ruled the play dead, and he took full advantage, flying down the left sideline to the Baltimore 8. Ravens coach John Harbaugh stomped around the sidelines with a challenge flag in his hand after the play, but since forward progress is not reviewable, he was powerless.
Harbaugh said afterward he thought the play clearly should have been ruled dead.
“The forward progress was stopped,” Harbaugh said. “If you hit him in that situation, then you’re going to get fined and penalized.”
While Johnson ran because he never heard a whistle, Harbaugh contended that there didn’t need to be one to end the play.
“The whistle doesn’t matter in that situation,” Harbaugh said. “We’re clearly told that when the play is dead, they’re supposed to stop. There have been plenty of times when guys have been fined and penalized. They don’t blow the whistle half the time. That’s just the way it works, I know it sounds crazy, but the whistle is not used that often.”
Johnson didn’t want to call the yardage cheap, but he did admit the play was a nice break for the Cardinals. The team led 17-10 at the time and would add a field goal on the drive.
His other yardage, though, was earned.
Johnson put the Cardinals up 7-3 early on with a 26-yard touchdown run. He first shed linebacker Elvis Dumervil and then absorbed a hit by safety Brynden Trawick and kept his balance. Johnson preferred the touchdown run to the later, more-publicized one.
“I’m known for my speed, so I showed right there some power,” Johnson said.
After hitting the century mark for the third time this season, Johnson now has 567 rushing yards on the season, which is second in the NFL behind only Falcons running back Devonta Freeman. Johnson joined Ricky Watters as the only two running backs to go over 100 yards rushing on Monday Night Football with three different teams.
“He’s still got it, I’ll tell you that,” quarterback
Johnson said he contemplated retirement during the offseason when NFL teams weren’t showing much interest, and admitted it would have been “a crisis” if he followed through without a post-career plan.
Instead, he’s an integral part of the Cardinals’ offense, using his legs to make plays, and when the situation arises, using his brain, too.
“It was right in front of me,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He was sitting right on the top of the guy and he’s a pro. He really wasn’t down and no whistle blew, so it was a good play.”