By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
SEATTLE — In an otherwise dreary finale to a season of disappointment, fans at Qwest Field got a glimpse of greatness Sunday.
The Seattle Seahawks ended up losing 17-13, but that outcome was only a footnote on a day of history for Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, who carried 36 times for 134 yards, giving him 2,006 for the season. Johnson became just the sixth National Football League player ever to top 2,000 rushing yards for a single season.
Even for frustrated Seahawks fans, it was something to cheer.
“There are a lot of great backs that have played this game that never reached that milestone,” said Tennessee tight end Alge Crumpler. “For C.J. to do it at such a young age (24) is a phenomenal performance.”
Only one other time has a running back played in Seattle on his way to a 2,000-yard season. That was Denver’s Terrell Davis (2,008 yards) back in 1998.
“(Johnson) is a special player,” said Seattle defensive end Darryl Tapp, who could’ve been speaking for all the Seahawks. “He’s explosive. He’s very explosive. There’s a reason he has 2,000 yards.”
Before the game, Johnson had an even bigger goal in mind. With 234 yards, he would have surpassed Eric Dickerson’s NFL single-season record of 2,105, set in 1984.
“It’s a little disappointing (not to catch Dickerson), but it’s only my second year,” Johnson said. “So I’m sure I’ll have another opportunity of doing that.”
From the outset, it was clear Johnson was going to carry the ball a lot. On the Titans’ opening possession, a 13-play, 82-yard scoring march, he had eight rushing attempts for 30 yards, including a 1-yard TD plunge.
He went over 2,000 yards early in the fourth quarter with a tumbling 4-yard carry through the right side. The ball was taken out of play, though there was little celebration or other fanfare at the time.
Two plays probably kept Johnson from beating Dickerson’s mark. The first came late in the third quarter when Johnson squirted through a hole on the left side and had a chance, with an open-field move or two, to break a long run. Instead, Seattle’s Will Herring dove from the side, the ball popped free, and the Seahawks recovered.
“When I got in the open, I looked at the goal line,” Johnson said. “But (Herring) caught me from the side and knocked it out of my hands.”
Then in the fourth quarter, Johnson had a huge hole on the right side and broke untouched to the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown run. But the play was called back by a holding penalty on Titans fullback Ahmard Hall, the lead blocker.
That holding call, by veteran NFL referee Ed Hochuli, seemed to catch everyone by surprise.
“I was definitely shocked when it was called on me,” Hall said. “I’ve done that (same block) all year, 16 games. I don’t want to question the ref’s call because you get in trouble for that in this league … but it was definitely disappointing. To come that close (to Dickerson’s record) and the call’s on you, that’s definitely tough.
“I definitely wanted C.J. to go in the record book as the all-time single-season rusher,” Hall added. “But we got the victory and he got his 2,000 yards, so I guess we can by happy with that.”
Even Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne, the player Hall was blocking, wasn’t sure it was a penalty.
There was maybe “a little bit” of holding, Hawthorne said, “but that’s the nature of the business.”
Other Tennessee players and coaches said they were waiting to see a replay of the call, “but I was disappointed that we had the long one called back,” said Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.
Even if Johnson fell short of Dickerson, “a lot of people got to see what our offense and C.J. are all about,” Fisher said. “And I think there’s a lot more ahead for him.”
Tennessee’s other offensive players, and particularly his blockers, were delighted to help Johnson reach his milestone.
Getting to 2,000 yards “is a great thing to have,” said Titans offensive guard Jake Scott. “There are only five other (offensive) lines that can claim that, so it’s a heck of an accomplishment. … People know we’re going to run the ball, and we still go out there and do it. I take a lot of pride in that, and I think the other guys on the line do, too.”
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to know that you’re a part of history,” agreed offensive guard Eugene Amano. “Not a lot of guys have gotten 2,000 yards. It’s definitely something that we can look back on and say that we were part of this.”
Even Tennessee’s defensive players enjoyed their contributions.
“It makes you want to go on the field and get a three-and-out just so you can give him the ball,” said linebacker Gerald McRath. “The things he’s done, I’ve never seen done in my life and not in my time. Just to be a part of his accomplishment is a big deal to me.”