Titans RB Johnson: 'I never felt like I left'


Titans RB Johnson: 'I never felt like I left'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Call off the all-points bulletin.

Chris Johnson, the highly-paid running back fans wanted benched or even traded, is a big piece of the Tennessee Titans' offense once again.

``I never felt like I left,'' Johnson said Wednesday. ``It was a situation where I didn't have many chances to actually run the ball and things like that. More and more we're in the game. We have a chance to continue to run the ball and get better and better throughout the game.''

The man nicknamed CJ2K for racking up 2,006 yards in 2009 has helped erase his horrible start this season with one of the biggest games of his career. But Johnson is right about the limited chances to run. He had 11, eight and 14 carries through the first three games before getting a season-high 25 rushes on Sept. 30, and he responded with 141 yards.

Johnson, named the AFC's offensive player of the week Wednesday, has helped the Titans (3-4) reel off two straight wins by leading the NFL in rushing with 451 yards since Week 4. That has lifted Tennessee's rushing offense from last in the league, where it's been much of the time since Johnson signed his four-year, $53.5 million extension before the 2011 season.

Now Johnson must keep it up Sunday against Indianapolis (3-4) to prove his 195 yards rushing wasn't a gift from Buffalo and the league's worst rushing defense. He'll have to do it with an ankle sore enough he was listed on the injury report Wednesday, even though he practiced fully.

``They'll be right back unless we stay consistent with it,'' Johnson said of his critics.

Johnson has gotten plenty of attention as the NFL's leading rusher since 2008 when he was drafted out of East Carolina, and the bull's eye only grew bigger after he became the sixth man in league history to run for at least 2,000 yards. But he struggled in 2011 after sitting out the preseason for his new deal, and he ran for a career-low 1,047 yards last season.

He couldn't always get back to the line of scrimmage, looked indecisive when he did get into open space and the man timed at 4.24 seconds at the 2008 NFL Combine looked slow. Fans booed, unhappy that 20-yard runs seemed impossible for the man who reeled off long runs left and right during his first three seasons.

``It was pretty tough,'' Johnson said. ``It was a situation where we had to continue to work and try to get better and throughout the whole situation we navigated by just continued working and believing in each other.''

Then Johnson took the field last week in Buffalo, and he showed his old burst when he cut to the right side end and launched himself at the pylon for a 16-yard TD. That proved merely the warm-up to an 83-yard TD run later in the first quarter where he blew past the Bills. Before the game ended, Johnson added a 25-yard run and a 27-yarder on the game-winning TD drive.

Johnson's performance made him the man with the most TDs rushing of 80 yards or longer in NFL history with his fourth. He also notched his fourth career game with 190 yards or more, most among active players, and his 195 yards were the third-most in a game this season. He now has an NFL-best 6,141 yards rushing since 2008.

Titans coach Mike Munchak said the key to gearing up the run game and Johnson has been staying in games long enough to be able to keep handing the ball to the running back in the fourth quarter. The coach also credited improved blocking and play-calling too with improving confidence all around.

``The running back, maybe he does have a couple years left ...,'' Munchak said. ``As far as we're concerned, we've just got to keep it going.''

Opposing coaches never took their focus off Johnson, insisting each week they had to stop the same speedy running back who could take a ball to the end zone every touch. Bruce Arians, the Colts' interim head coach and offensive coordinator, said there isn't any doubt Johnson remains as dangerous as ever.

``That target is going to be on his back, and it's really tough to shed when you have everyone hunting you up,'' Arians said. ``He looks like he's still in great form.''

The Colts are struggling to stop the run, giving up an average 141.7 yards per game. Johnson is averaging 3.7 yards per carry with only two 100-yard games in seven games against Indianapolis, and Colts linebacker Dwight Freeney said Johnson always has been a challenge with what he called ``Barry Sanders' type of game-breaking ability.''

``He'll have 10 runs that you stop him and then all of a sudden, all he needs is one and that one is big,'' Freeney said. ``It's going to be important that guys collectively, on each and every play, stop him.''

Or else.

Notes: QB Jake Locker practiced on a limited basis, throwing in individual drills and in 7-on-7. Munchak said Locker looked better throwing and told Indianapolis reporters the quarterback's left, non-throwing shoulder hadn't healed yet. Locker separated his shoulder twice in the first four games. ... WR Kenny Britt (knee), S Jordan Babineaux (wrist), LB Colin McCarthy (right ankle), and TE Craig Stevens (concussion) all practiced fully. LT Michael Roos (appendectomy), LB Will Witherspoon (hamstring), LB Patrick Bailey (hand/ribs) and CB Tommie Campbell (left ankle) did not practice.


AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report.


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Inside the numbers: Will a 1,000-yard receiver make or break the 2018 Redskins?

Inside the numbers: Will a 1,000-yard receiver make or break the 2018 Redskins?

In 2017, the Redskins missed the playoffs while no receiver went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Jamison Crowder led the team with 789 receiving yards.

In 2016, the Redskins missed the playoffs while two receivers went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Pierre Garçon gained 1,041 yards that year while DeSean Jackson posted 1,005 receiving yards. 

In 2015, the Redskins did make the playoffs. That season the team had no receivers go for 1,000 yards, though Jordan Reed got close with 952 receiving yards. 

Is there a lesson here? Is there a takeaway that can help to predict the 2018 season?

Going into this season, no Redskins wideout has ever accounted for 1,000 yards in a single season. In their career.

Former first-round pick Josh Doctson accounted for just more than 500 receiving yards last season, catching 35 of the 78 balls thrown his way.  Crowder was mostly productive, but there was an expectation, fair or not, he would make more of a jump in 2018 than he did. Jordan Reed hardly played. 

To help the group, the Redskins added Paul Richardson in free agency. Last year playing for the Seahawks, Richardson went for 703 yards on 44 catches. The speedster gives the Redskins a true downfield threat the team lacked in 2017, and that could help the whole offense. In fact, it better help the whole offense. 

Still, looking at a top three of Doctson, Crowder and Richardson, it's hard to confidently predict a 1,000-yard receiver from the bunch. 

Could it happen? Absolutely. Any of the three could pop to a four-digit total.

Would you put your own hard-earned cash on the line? That would take some guts. 

Though the Redskins have a new quarterback in Alex Smith, head coach Jay Gruden has been crystal clear the team is not in a rebuilding mode. Washington must win, now, this season, and a minimum goal should be a Wild Card playoff spot. 

How imperative is a 1,000-yard wide receiver to that goal? Let's look back at the past 12 NFC playoff teams. 

Only three of six NFL playoff teams in 2017 had a 1,000-yard wideout. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles did not, but the Vikings, Saints and Falcons all did. 

In 2016, however, five of six playoff teams had 1,000-yard receivers. The only team that didn't, the Cowboys, deployed a heavy run offense that resulted in Ezekiel Elliott going for more than 1,600 rush yards. 

Added together, in the past two seasons, eight of 12 NFC playoff teams had a receiver on their squad go at least four digits. 

One more note: the New England Patriots played in the last two Super Bowls, winning one and losing one. Both years they had at least one receiver get to 1,000 yards (Julian Edelman in 2016, Brandin Cooks in 2017). In 2017, tight end Rob Gronkowski broke the 1,000-yard mark too.

Again, what's the takeaway? Having a 1,000-yard receiver is certainly good, but it's not a must for a playoff berth or a deep playoff run. The Eagles proved that. 

On some teams, an elite wideout makes a huge difference. Watch Giants tape and it's clear what Odell Beckham does for the offense. Watch Falcons tape and Julio Jones does the same. 

On other teams, an elite quarterback makes a huge difference. Duh.  

Of the teams examined, the 2016 Packers came the closest to the 2017 Patriots with having two players go for over 1,000 yards.

2017 New England did it with Cooks (1,082) and Gronkowski (1,084), 2016 Green Bay almost got there with Jordy Nelson (1,257) and Davante Adams (997). 

While Gronkowski and Nelson are excellent players, the common denominator is obviously the elite play of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. 

For the 2018 Redskins, what does it mean?

The Redskins don't have an elite wideout like Jones or Beckham. The Redskins don't have an elite quarterback like Brady or Rodgers. 

The best path for Washington's offense might be balance, and trying to emulate the Eagles model from 2017. Carson Wentz played most of the season at an elite level, but he spread the ball around to a number of targets and leaned heavily on his tight ends. It helped that the Eagles ran the ball very well too. 

Could the 'Skins do something similar? Alex Smith is known to spread the ball around, and if Jordan Reed and Derrius Guice can produce this fall, the offenses might be similar. 

The answer can't be force enough balls to one wideout to ensure a 1,000 yard season. That won't work. 

There might be another way to consider. Of the three NFC teams that made the 2017 playoffs without a 1,000-yard wideout, two found a lot of success throwing to a running back.

The Panthers leading WR was Devin Funchess with 840 receiving yards. Their second best receiver? Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey. 

The Rams leading WR was Cooper Kupp with 869 receiving yards. Their second best receiver? Running back Todd Gurley.

See a pattern?

Before breaking his leg in November, Chris Thompson had more than 500 receiving yards. He still finished as the team's fourth-leading receiver despite playing only 10 games. 

The offensive path to playoff success for Washington might not hinge on a true 1,000-yard wideout like it does for many teams. Full, healthy seasons from Jordan Reed or Chris Thompson could make up for deficiencies at other skill positions. It also remains possible Doctson, Crowder or Richardson make the four digit leap. 

Having a 1,000-yard receiver seems like a nice option for a good offense, and that's proven by nearly 70 percent of recent NFC playoff teams. Still, other paths remain to the postseason, and increased production at tight end and running back can go a long way. 


— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap


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Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles


Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

WASHINGTON -- A teenager among men, Juan Soto has impressed his teammates on the Washington Nationals with his maturity and, even more so, his potent bat.

Soto hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning, and Washington beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Thursday night in the deciding matchup of a three-game interleague series between neighboring rivals.

Soto, a 19-year-old rookie, is batting .326 with 16 RBIs in 28 games. Starting in the cleanup spot for the first time, he drew a walk and delivered the game's pivotal hit.

"I think we're all amazed every single day," Washington ace Max Scherzer said. "He puts together great ABs. He has antics and has some flair. He's a great young player. He's just enjoying himself."

Bryce Harper led off the eighth with a double off Mychal Givens (0-4) and Trea Turner followed with a single. After Anthony Rendon struck out, Soto hit a liner into the gap in left-center.

"He's got unbelievable poise," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of Soto. "No matter what the situation is, he goes out there with a game plan."

Whatever that plan is, it's effective.

"I just try to be focused and keep working," Soto said.

Rendon homered for the Nationals, who received seven strong innings from Scherzer and flawless work from their bullpen.

Newcomer Kelvin Herrera (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Sean Doolittle got three straight outs for his 20th save in 21 tries.

Seeking to end a rare run of two straight losses, Scherzer left a tied game after allowing two runs -- both on solo homers -- and striking out nine.

Afterward, the right-hander heaped praise upon Soto for the manner in which he's adapted to playing in the big leagues.

"He has a great feel for the strike zone," Scherzer said. "To have that type of eye, it's remarkable for him to be able to do that at this time and this age and this level."

Activated from the 60-day disabled list before the game, Colby Rasmus homered for the Orioles in his first at-bat since April 6.

"Me and Max, we go way back, so I felt real good," said Rasmus, who had been sidelined with a hip injury.

In addition, Rasmus made an outstanding throw from right field to the plate, nailing Wilmer Difo on a tag-up play in the seventh inning with the score tied.

Mark Trumbo also homered for Baltimore, his sixth of the season and third in four games.

Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman gave up two runs and four hits over six innings. The right-hander was lifted with the score tied, leaving him winless in his last seven starts.