JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Cost versus production is an equation that's up for constant debate when it comes to Titans running back Chris Johnson.
He's getting paid $10 million this season for 3.8 yards a carry. A guy known as CJ2K after running for 2,006 yards in 2009 needs 53 in the season finale against Houston at LP Field to finish 2013 with just half that total.
A breakaway back has a long run of 30 yards and hardly ever breaks a tackle. Due $8 million next season, he could be heading into his last game with Tennessee.
But Sunday at a key moment against a bad run defense, he flashed back to far better days.
With 3:01 remaining in the game and the Titans looking to hold on to their 4-point lead, the Titans faced third-and-4 from their 23 yard-line. Out of shotgun, Ryan Fitzpatrick handed off to Johnson, who chugged and spun angling to the right side of the middle of the field for a 4-yard gain.
The first down put the Titans in position to run an additional 2:08 off the clock and force Jacksonville to burn its final two timeouts, one on a failed challenge of the spot of Johnson's run.
If it wasn't Johnson's best run of the year, it was his second best. His 7-yard touchdown run in Nashville against the Colts on Nov. 14 also featured him taking on a defender and powering through.
Tennessee had run well against the Jaguars, who fielded an injury-weakened defensive front. Shonn Greene has 19 carries for 91 yards and Johnson had 22 for 90 in the first game that really showed what they can do as a tandem.
Receivers including Nate Washington, who had a 117-yard day, were feeling so good about the ground game, they encouraged offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to call a run on the third-and-4.
“It was going to the left and we checked it to go toward the tight end to set up better angles for the offensive linemen,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “He made a great read and just put his head down and got the yards.”
The defense chipped in with three big plays near the end too. Jason McCourty made an excellent tackle of Ace Sanders to keep him short of a first down, and Ropati Pitoitua and Bernard Pollard stopped Maurice Jones-Drew on the subsequent fourth-and-1 try.
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said the solid defense down the stretch came from everyone doing his job and “no confusion.”
It was a good list of big plays late in a game for a team that's made a habit out of failing to finish.
Whatever happens with Johnson, I bet he'll remember that third-down play and the confidence the coaches showed in calling it.
“It was pretty good,” he said. “I think that was a good run third-and-4 and everybody knew it was coming. A guy came flying and I broke the tackle, I dove, fighting and scratching just to get the first down.
“It feels good that they made that call, it felt good that they gave me the ball and put the trust in me to get the first down.”