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It's a Run-Off

Posted Dec 23, 2010

Much has changed for the Chiefs since Chris Johnson beat the bongo drums

It’s a scene that most Chiefs fans would rather forget. Unfortunately, more than two years later, nearly everyone remembers it.

Rookie RB Chris Johnson had just burst into the open field for a 66-yard TD run giving Tennessee a 34-3 fourth quarter lead at Arrowhead.  He’d eclipsed 150 rushing yards for the first time in his career and finished the day averaging 9.3 yards per carry on 18 attempts.

Chris Johnson was in the midst of his NFL coming-out party and he felt like celebrating.

Behind the goal post in the east end zone, Johnson got musical. He commandeered the bongo drums used by the then-active TD Pack Band and went to work with an island-like celebration. The maneuver got Johnson fined $15,000 by 280 Park Ave., but that didn’t matter much to the rookie amongst his breakout day.

“I’d say it was worth it, but anytime you get fined $15,000 it’s always a hard thing,” Johnson said in his conference call on Wednesday. “At the end of the day, I’d have to say that if I had the chance to do it again…if I could take it back, I wouldn’t take it back. I’d do it again.”

Johnson later clarified to the Tennessee media that he meant no disrespect to Chiefs fans with his post-TD act.

“I didn’t do the celebration to disrespect Kansas City, I just like entertaining the fans and I was just trying to do some entertainment,” Johnson said.

More fans took offense to the Chiefs defensive effort that day.

Johnson’s celebration was symbolic of the Chiefs 2008 season as a whole; a two-win suffering that saw six different players rush for over 100 yards against the KC defense. A pair of teams ran for over 300 yards against the Chiefs that year as well. Johnson, and then-teammate LenDale White, paired to make the Titans one of those foes.

Unlucky for Johnson, those drums have since been removed from the east end zone. Lucky for the Chiefs, their 2010 run defense is a whole lot better than the last time Johnson visited Arrowhead.

 Johnson’s rookie season officially introduced a rising star to the NFL (and fantasy football) fan base. He quickly became one of the league’s top young, offensive talents and was awarded a Pro Bowl invite following his first season.

Johnson’s since gone on to re-write numerous records and has become one of only six players to post a 2,000-yard rushing season. Nearly everyone knows who Johnson is now, but he was foreign to plenty who follow the league prior to his jam session at Arrowhead.

“I remember the last time he played here, banging on those bongos after he had a big game,” DE Shaun Smith remembered. At the time, Smith watched from afar as a member of the Cleveland Browns.

While Johnson was busy starting a conga line, Jamaal Charles watched from the sidelines. Also a rookie, Charles was having a much quieter first season than Johnson. He ran the ball only three times that day for just 17 yards; a performance on par with Charles’ typical 2008 workload.

It would take Charles nearly about a full calendar year before the comparisons to Johnson started flowing. Bongos excluded, fans across the country took notice of Charles’ record-setting close to the 2009 season. Over his final eight games, Charles’ 968 rushing yards ranked second in the league behind only Johnson (1,047).

The two backs share the same track meet speed, their moves in the open field are similar and each has a frame that compares to one another. They even share similar hair styles.

“There are some similarities,” Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said. “(Charles) is really an exciting back. They’ve done a great job with him. He’s very explosive, has great downfield speed and vision, and he’s a tough runner. There are similarities there.”

Todd Haley agrees.

“I think there are some similarities between the two,” Haley said. “They’re built similarly; they’re explosive obviously, and quick. This guy, Chris Johnson, with what he’s done to this point in his career, obviously there are so few that have hit that 2,000-yard mark to begin with but they’ve both got good hands, they both can do a lot a lot of different things for you.”

In 2010, Charles is the one setting milestones. He eclipsed the 200-carry mark last weekend with an average of 6.4 yards per carry; it’s the best single-season average of any runner in NFL history totaling more than 200 carries.

While Charles has gained only 36 more rushing yards than Johnson this season, he’s built the advantage on 79 less carries. For many runners, that’s a load equivalent to four games of work.

Though he still ranks fourth in the league, Johnson’s rushing total is off 463 yards from where it stood at this point last season.

“He’s still the same back,” Fisher confirmed. “I think our difficulties have stemmed from the uncertainty of the quarterback position. Some teams are going to do whatever they can to shut the run game down and we were unable to put the ball effectively down the field for a number of weeks. I think we’re getting back to that now, so his numbers are starting to improve.”

The Titans have also played from behind a handful of times this season and also started a rookie quarterback (Rusty Smith) at Houston earlier this season. Johnson received just seven carries as the Titans fell behind the Texans that day.

“CJ is running his course and he’s reading well, he just hasn’t had as many opportunities,” Fisher said. “It’s really been a team situation as opposed to an individual situation with CJ.”

It’s primarily been an all-or-nothing outing for Johnson this season. Despite a decline in his overall numbers, Johnson has still produced the most 100-yard outings (8) of any running back this season. Charles has turned in four such games and the NFL’s leading rusher, Arian Foster, has tallied seven 100-yard contests this season.

A rarity is in the mix for Sunday. Few games offer the rushing matchup that Arrowhead will host this Sunday.

Fans almost never get to see runners will the ability of Johnson and Charles square off against one another in the same game. When the pair met two seasons ago the situation was much different. This Sunday’s showdown should be an entertaining battle.

Fisher, like most of us, believes that the winner of the Sunday’s run-off will ultimately decide the football game.

“This game is going to probably, for the most part, amount to a 9-on-7 at noon on Sunday,” Fisher said. “I think that both teams understand that the team that is able to run the football is probably going to win the football game.”

With Thomas Jones added to the mix, the Chiefs have an added advantage for Sunday’s run-off. Just 71 yards separate Charles and Jones from becoming the most prolific rushing duo that the franchise has ever had in a single season.

Things have changed an awfully lot for the Chiefs since Chris Johnson last played the bongos.

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