His back, David Johnson said, felt “great.”
His touchdown catch, from 14 yards out with a defender draped on him on a pass quarterback Kyler Murray said wasn’t the best, was also great. It also gave the Cardinals the lead in their eventual 34-33 win over the Falcons Sunday at State Farm Stadium, not bad for the running back after a week of treating his balky back.
“Being utilized not just as a running back and being able to be effective as a receiver … it helps out a lot because sometimes you get mismatches,” Johnson said.
That’s exactly what the Cardinals found on the fourth-quarter play. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell followed Johnson outside after Johnson went in motion, and Murray was practically giddy. Johnson also got matched up with a linebacker on the final drive in Cincinnati last week, allowing Murray to find him for a key 24-yard pass.
It was only 14 yards this time, to the end zone. But Murray was looking his way again.
“I saw a linebacker out there,” Murray said. “It’s kind of too good to be true, but he stayed on him. I didn’t think it was that good of a ball, but (Johnson) made a great adjustment.”
Campbell was even flagged for pass interference on the play. That was obviously declined.
Johnson never really got going as a runner against the Falcons – he gained only 34 yards on 12 carries – but tied Larry Fitzgerald with a team-high six catches and his 68 yards receiving was only one fewer than Fitzgerald’s team-high.
Backup running back Chase Edmonds again got some work – a combined 68 yards on seven touches. But Johnson, who only practiced Friday, on a limited basis, remained the main guy even with his injury.
“Same as last week, he was banged up and battled through it and did it again this week,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “That was the game-saving catch.”
THE FUMBLE THAT WASN’T
Damiere Byrd had missed two games with a bad hamstring before returning to the field Sunday, and made the longest catch of his career, a perfect 58-yard bomb from Murray. As he neared the goal line, cornerback Isaiah Oliver tackled him, and Byrd – sensing he was close to the goal line – reached to put the ball over the line.
Instead, the ball came loose. The official blew the play dead, Byrd said, which is why he didn’t immediately go after the ball, but the Falcons picked it up, and Atlanta coach Dan Quinn challenged the play. Eventually, the play stood as down at the Atlanta 1.
Afterward, Murray and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald both acknowledged they thought it was a fumble. Kingsbury said he knew it was close. Byrd just said he knew he made a mistake.
“Yeah, next time I’ll just hold on to it,” Byrd said. “I was trying to cap the play off and I got a little greedy. But it worked out for us.”
CHOOSING A FIELD GOAL BEFORE HALFTIME
The Cardinals had the ball on the Atlanta 4-yard line on third down with seven seconds left in the first half and no timeouts. Kingsbury decided to kick the field goal rather than try one more time for a touchdown.
“I got a little spooked after the ball got batted up (on second down) and I just wanted points there,” said Kingsbury, after Murray had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage. “Seven seconds left, that’s close, right on the edge. They were playing some zone defenses, and we just wanted to make sure we got points.”
CHASING DOWN MATT RYAN
The Cardinals got two sacks on the day, both officially split between two players. The first was Corey Peters and Rodney Gunter. Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs split a fourth-quarter sack which forced a punt in a tie game. The Cardinals drove down for the Johnson touchdown catch afterward.