Titans' Rookie Eager To Prove He's No Fluke

By: Teresa M. Walker, Associated Press
By: Teresa M. Walker, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Chris Johnson had one of his worst games as a rookie against the Baltimore Ravens. Which changes very little in his approach.

The Pro Bowl running back insists the Tennessee Titans will have to run to beat the Ravens this time.

And Johnson can't wait to prove what he can do in the playoffs.

"This is going to show a lot of people how good I really am and that I'm just not a fluke, and I'm not something that happened in the regular season, and show that I'm a very good player," Johnson said Tuesday.

Playing better against the Ravens would help.

The Titans ran just 22 times for 47 yards in their 13-10 win in Baltimore on Oct. 5. Johnson got 44 yards on 18 carries — 27 on his first four carries before being smothered by the Ravens, who stopped him for no gain or in the backfield six times. LenDale White added three carries for a net of 4 yards.

It was one of only three games in which the Titans were held below 76 yards rushing this season, but didn't stop them from improving to 5-0 that day.

With Baltimore coming to town Saturday for an AFC divisional playoff game, Titans coach Jeff Fisher sees a simple fix to their run problems: getting a few more chances.

" Convert third downs so you get more opportunities, more plays. We ran 54 plays the first time we played them. We had some difficulty with the run, so as you all saw, with six minutes left to go, we picked it up and threw it and that was the difference in the ballgame for us," Fisher said.

Shutting down Tennessee's running game hasn't been easy this season.

The Titans ran for a franchise-record 332 yards against Kansas City and racked up 292 yards on Thanksgiving against Detroit. White and Johnson each ran for 100 yards or more apiece in those games and missed a third when White lost a yard on his final carry in a 28-9 win over Cleveland that clinched their AFC South title.

Johnson, the 24th pick overall out of East Carolina, doesn't lack confidence. He celebrated a 66-yard touchdown run in Kansas City by banging on drums in the end zone, then appealed the fine handed down by the NFL.

He finished with 1,228 yards as the NFL's eighth-best rusher despite sitting out the finale at Indianapolis as a precaution. That didn't stop him from saying last week he deserved The Associated Press' Offensive Rookie of the Year award instead of Matt Ryan of Atlanta as the only rookie Pro Bowler, and criticizing the voting process.

Only Earl Campbell has rushed for more touchdowns in a season (19 in 1979 when the then-Houston Oilers reached their second straight AFC championship game) than White, who had 15. Johnson just missed joining him with double-digits, scoring nine TDs himself.

"They're both really good," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Each has a unique strength. Everybody wants to talk about how one guy runs outside and one guy runs inside, but when you watch the tape and you find they're both capable of really carrying the full load of their offense in kind of a similar way."

Stopping the run is only one of the areas the Ravens pride themselves in defensively. They haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in two seasons, a streak now at 35 games going back to Larry Johnson of Kansas City on Dec. 10, 2006. Teams are averaging a mere 81.4 yards rushing against them.

The Titans could be without Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae, the anchor of their offensive line and another key reason Tennessee averaged 137.4 yards rushing each game this season. Mawae has an injured right elbow, and Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis called the center one of the smartest linemen in the game.

"He keeps those guys in line, and that's probably one of the biggest reasons why they have that running game being so successful," Lewis said.

But the Titans showed Dec. 21 that they can run against stingy Pittsburgh, piling up 117 yards in a 31-14 rout.

White said the Titans' rushing offense is better now than in the first game with Baltimore. That was their fifth game of the season, and he said they now know where each person will be and how to work together at this point of the year. And trying to run through Haloti Ngata, Lewis and Scott?

"I'm 240 pounds for a reason," White said. "I welcome anything at any given time."

The Titans think they have a good plan to attack this Baltimore defense, and White said he'll do exactly what offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger asks him to do. In the end, White said running the ball at this stage is pretty simple.

"It's just up to us to go out there and want it more," he said.

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