GLENDALE — Just 1:44 remained and the New Orleans Saints were down to their final timeout when the Arizona Cardinals, leading 24-19, were looking to run out the clock and ice a Week 1 victory.
So naturally they threw a pass to running back David Johnson, who took the short toss, got a block and raced 55 yards for a touchdown. The ensuing PAT made the score 31-19, and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.
“You figure they are going to be in an all-out defense, man-to-man, and we’ll get a chance to get him free really just to get a first down and get the clock moving and use up another timeout,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “David did a heck of a job of hitting the jets and scoring. It wasn’t designed to score. It was designed to get us a first down.”
The Cardinals were happy to take the touchdown, which happened to come on Johnson’s first career reception.
“I’m glad he had the trust in me,” Johnson said. “I’m glad I caught the ball and did what I did.”
That Arians had faith in Johnson to make the catch isn’t a shock, as the third-round pick out of Northern Iowa showed in training camp he could be counted on as a receiver. However, the situation generally called for the Cardinals to keep the ball on the ground, as an incompletion would have led to the clock being stopped and, possibly, giving the Saints more time to try and mount a comeback.
“In Coach Arians’ car there’s no cruise control,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “You’re always going to have your foot down on the pedal. As a player, you love that. He’s going for the jugular no matter what the score is, no matter what the occasion is.
“He wants to close teams out. His mentality is the same mentality that players have. That’s what he expects from us. To have that killer instinct. You relish those opportunities.”
Johnson, certainly is relishing the moment. He said his first NFL game could not have gone any better, noting he’s glad he was able to help the team earn a win. He also got a chance to show off the speed he knew he had.
“I think I surprised everyone else, but it was a great feeling,” he said. “I think I was a little excited so that’s maybe why I had a little more in me.”
Arians said he knew about Johnson’s speed, which makes sense since they researched him before using their third-round pick to select him.
Carson Palmer too was aware, saying he first noticed it in OTAs. Sunday, while watching Johnson race down the field, the QB said he was worried the rookie would step out of bounds and stop the clock.
“It looked like he was headed out of bounds and then he kind of just hit that rocket booster button and exploded down the sidelines,” he said.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu, on the other hand, admitted he was surprised by Johnson’s speed, but was glad to see it.
“I didn’t know he was that fast by the way,” he said. “But as long as he continues to work hard, he’ll be a great running back in this league.”
Johnson did not receive a carry Sunday, though depending on the status of starter Andre Ellington, there’s a good chance he’ll factor more into the gameplan next week when the Cardinals face the Chicago Bears.
And though it was just one play Sunday, Johnson’s performance likely did a lot to instill confidence that if called upon, he’ll produce. There’s no lack of belief from the running back himself.
“Yeah, I’m definitely ready,” he said.