Cardinals running back David Johnson runs after the catch during Sunday's 24-22 loss to the Rams.
David Johnson set the bar impossibly high in his first two games, making NFL history by scoring on a kickoff, a rush and a reception in wins over the Saints and Bears.
The rookie running back was the first to admit there wasn't anywhere to go but down, although he was hoping for a softer landing than the one resulting from the mistakes he made in the Cardinals' 24-22 loss to the Rams on Sunday.
Johnson fumbled the opening kickoff which led to a St. Louis touchdown and then dropped a touchdown pass on the Cardinals' second offensive possession. He showed glimpses of what he can be by rushing three times for 18 yards and catching four passes for 63 yards and a touchdown, but it was more learning experience than highlight tape.
"You'd like to have more good than bad," coach Bruce Arians said. "His good came late. He dropped a touchdown pass and he fumbled a ball, and he played like a rookie today."
Johnson put the Cardinals in a hole when Rams safety Mark Barron popped the ball out on his opening return and the Rams recovered at the Arizona 17. Two plays later, Rams quarterback Nick Foles found wideout Tavon Austin for a 12-yard touchdown and an early lead. Johnson said he should have protected the ball better on the play.
"It was just ball in the wrong hand, a kindergarten thing," Johnson said. "I had the ball on the inside. I should've had it on the outside. He just hit the ball on the right spot and it came out."
The Cardinals had a chance to tie the game on a third-and-goal from the St. Louis 4 late in the first quarter, but Johnson dropped an easy touchdown throw from quarterback Carson Palmer.
Some players could have gone in the tank from there, but Johnson played well the rest of the way. He showed his versatility by splitting out as a wide receiver in some formations. He proved to be a big part of the passing game, getting targeted a team-high 10 times.
"A lot of veterans came up to me and coaches came up to me and told me, 'Just shrug it off, let it go, get on to the next play,'" Johnson said. "I just came out and tried to get over everything."
He gave the Cardinals life by catching a 23-yard touchdown pass from Palmer with 4:38 remaining to cut the deficit to 24-22. Palmer was one of the players in his ear telling Johnson to forget about the early woes.
"I told him, 'You're going to make up for it,'" Palmer said. "And he did on the touchdown to give us a chance to come back and try to win the game. Those things happen."
Johnson's eight-yard run on the Cardinals' last possession gave them a second-and-2 from the St. Louis 43, needing a field goal for the victory. He was targeted twice in the last three plays, but an attempted screen pass was batted down by Rams defensive end Robert Quinn before it got to him, and a fourth-down throw from Palmer was inaccurate.
Despite falling short, Johnson appreciated the late opportunity afforded him to make an impact.
"It felt good to have (Arians) and Carson trust me," Johnson said.
Even during his hot start, Johnson never put too much stock into his breakout performances, staying low-key during conversations about the success. After some adversity Sunday, he doesn't think it will be hard to put this behind him, either.
"I think I'll be able to reconcile it and just get ready for (Monday) to watch film," Johnson said. "Make sure this week I'm definitely studying and make sure I correct everything that went bad, basically."