Commentary

2K times two? Not so fast

History suggests Chris Johnson won't meet his goal of another 2,000-yard season

Originally Published: March 1, 2013
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

We cherish that which is rare, which is why the accomplishments of O.J. Simpson, Chris Johnson, Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders, Jamal Lewis, Adrian Peterson and Eric Dickerson will live forever. They are in the NFL record book, the seven men to run for at least 2,000 yards in a season. "Buffalo" and "1973" and "2,003" might not be in the first sentence of Simpson's obituary, but they will make the second.

A 2,000-yard rushing season is an accomplishment so rarely achieved that none of those men, three of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, ever achieved it again.

That is why, despite his best intentions, Johnson will be hard-pressed to repeat 2009, when as a second-year running back for the Tennessee Titans he gained 2,006 yards to join the 2K club. CJ2K2X we probably will never see.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesChris Johnson predicts he will outgain Adrian Peterson next season.

This week during an interview with Trey Wingo on ESPN's "NFL Live," Johnson, 27, said that he was "very confident" he will have more rushing yards in 2013 than Peterson. It was a lofty statement, given the season Peterson had in 2012, when he rushed for 2,097 yards even though he was less than a year removed from reconstructive knee surgery.

As if chasing the magnificent Peterson weren't enough, Johnson went a step further during a subsequent interview with NFL Network, saying he could break Dickerson's 29-year-old record of 2,105 rushing yards.

"Every running back's goal is to break that record," Johnson said. "You want to break 2,105. I believe I can do it."

History says otherwise.

Following his 2,000-yard season in 1973, Simpson had three more 1,000-yard seasons, including 1975, when he rushed for 1,817 yards and 1976 when he gained 1,503, but he never threatened 2,000. Davis gained 2,008 yards in 1998, blew out his knee in the fourth game of the 1999 season and never came close to gaining 1,000 yards, much less 2,000, before retiring during the preseason in 2002.

Sanders' 2,000-yard season came in his ninth year, the latest in the career of any of the backs in the club. After a remarkable eight straight 1,000-yard seasons to start his career -- including 1,548 yards in 1991, 1,883 yards in 1994, 1,500 yards in 1995 and 1,553 yards in 1996 -- Sanders finally topped 2,000 in 1997 with 2,053. He played one more year, gaining 1,491 yards in 1998, before abruptly retiring.

Lewis joined the club during his third season with Baltimore, when he gained 2,066 yards. He had four more 1,000-yard seasons but never came within 600 yards of 2,000. It took Peterson until his sixth season to break 2,000, after four 1,000-yard seasons, including his second in 2008, when he gained 1,760.

As for the record-holder, Dickerson set the bar in his second season with the Los Angeles Rams, when he averaged 131.6 yards per game. He came relatively close two other times, in 1986 when he gained 1,821 yards and in 1988 when he gained 1,659 yards for Indianapolis.

Some of the best backs in the history of the game never reached 2K, iconic players including Marcus Allen, Jim Brown, Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith. Of the 29 modern era halfbacks/fullbacks enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, only three had a 2,000-yard season.

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Steve Mitchell/US PresswireThe Titans have yet to win a playoff game with Chris Johnson on the field. Will that change next season?

Johnson's belief that he can do it twice when it's so hard to even do it once is admirable but misguided. In the three seasons since he topped 2,000 yards, Johnson hasn't looked like the same player. His best attribute is his speed, and although he has shown he still has that at times, last season he looked indecisive and impatient. Maybe he was trying to do too much, carrying a team that continued to break in a young quarterback, but he didn't look like the Johnson of 2009.

The Titans changed running backs coaches this offseason, and Sylvester Croom should be able to provide Johnson with a fresh set of eyes, a new perspective and a different voice. That should help.

But what Johnson really needs to worry about is ultimately what matters in the NFL: winning. It's like Peterson said last year as he moved closer and closer to Dickerson's record: The record was important, but getting to the playoffs was more important.

Johnson has been to the postseason only once. It was his rookie year in 2008, and although he gained 72 yards on 11 carries and scored a touchdown against Baltimore, the Titans lost 13-10. They haven't sniffed the playoffs since.

With a notable individual achievement already in hand, not mention a truckload of money in his pocket, Johnson should care more about helping Tennessee return to the postseason. He should care about how the Titans rebuild their offensive line, about what happens to unrestricted free-agent center Fernando Velasco and guard Leroy Harris. He should care about helping quarterback Jake Locker progress and about how the franchise revamps the passing game.

Johnson already is CJ2K. When it comes time to discuss his legacy, that rare achievement will be in the first sentence. He won't want the second sentence to read: "But he never helped his team win a playoff game."