It was not the return David Johnson wanted to have to the field after sitting two games and almost all of a third with an ankle injury.
The running back was in the starting lineup – both he and fellow back Kenyan Drake were on the field together for much of the first drive – Sunday during the Cardinals' loss to the Buccaneers. But against the top-ranked rush defense in the league, Johnson had a miserable day, gaining only 2 yards on five carries and fumbling the ball away after his only reception.
After the fumble, Johnson didn't play another snap, and coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed Monday he made that decision.
"We just felt like Drake needed to get something going and kept him rolling," Kingsbury said. "The last couple weeks, in practice and games, (Drake) has brought a little pop to the run game and the pass game. We felt like he was the guy to close out the game."
Although Johnson declared himself "100 percent" last week, he does not look that way yet after dealing with the ankle injury and also back issues this season. He has never fully found a groove even when healthy this season, but it's also true that his production (particularly in the pass game) were crucial in the Cardinals' wins against the Bengals and Falcons as well as the tie against the Lions.
Johnson has "obviously been hampered" by injuries, Kingsbury said, and that Johnson is still trying to work through it.
Kingsbury said he wasn't sure if Johnson was tentative on Sunday, noting how good the Bucs' run defense was. Drake wasn't exactly prodigious himself – Drake played 45 of 70 potential offensive snaps, Johnson 30 – in gaining 35 yards on 10 carries, with 17 coming on one run. Drake also only got 6 yards on six receptions.
Kingsbury was also asked if the decision to take Johnson out of the game was meaningful in terms of Johnson's usage moving forward.
"We'll put the best guys out there each week that we feel like give us the best chance to win, and that can change week in and week out," Kingsbury said.
It's notable that the Cardinals now face the 49ers for the second time in three games – the same 49ers who Drake got for 110 yards rushing on 15 carries.
The potential of adding Chase Edmonds to the mix will also potentially impact playing time. Edmonds isn't expected back this week with his hamstring injury, although the Cardinals do have their bye afterward, getting Edmonds two more weeks of recovery.
For now, though, Drake and Johnson are what Kingsbury has to work with.
"We just acquired Kenyan and trying to figure out the best possible rotation and who does what best is always a challenge, but it's two very serviceable backs who can be game-breakers at any time," Kingsbury said. "You like to have a problem like that. Over the next few weeks, we'll figure out the best role for each guy and run with it."
PATRICK PETERSON DAY-TO-DAY; ZACH ALLEN IR CONSIDERED
Cornerback Patrick Peterson, who hurt his calf Sunday in Tampa, is officially day-to-day, Kingsbury said, and there is a chance he could play Sunday in San Francisco. "If not, we have the bye and he'll be back the next game," Kingsbury added.
Kingsbury said there has been consideration to put rookie defensive end Zach Allen, who has been dealing with a neck injury since exiting early in Week 4, on injured reserve. But the Cardinals have been targeting a post-bye return for Allen so he could potentially play the final five games.
"The big thing with Zach is reps are so valuable as a rookie," Kingsbury said. "We'll see. Once again, we want to make sure he is 100 percent."
A chronological look at the Cardinals' tenth regular season game against the Buccaneers.