GLENDALE, Ariz. — Two weeks ago, David Johnson started off a game as well as one could by returning the opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears.
The start of Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams did not go nearly as well.
Johnson again brought the ball out from the end zone but during his return had it jarred loose by the Rams’ Mark Barron. St. Louis recovered the fumble at the Arizona 17 and scored a touchdown three plays later.
It was the Cardinals’ first deficit of the season, and one they would never recover from in a 24-22 defeat.
“I think it was just ball in the wrong hand,” Johnson said of the fumble. “A kindergarden thing. Had the ball on the inside, should have had it on the outside. He just hit the ball right on the right spot and it came out.”
In some ways, it was the first real adversity Johnson has faced in the NFL. Three games into the season, he had been one of the team’s pleasant surprises, a third-round draft pick who was making an immediate impact. His rough afternoon continued in the first quarter when he couldn’t snag what should have been a touchdown catch on third down, forcing the Cardinals to settle for a field goal.
By the time all the dust settled Johnson did make an impact on the game, gaining 18 yards on three carries while catching four passes for 63 yards and a touchdown.
“Yeah, you’d like to have more good than bad,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “His good came late. You know, he dropped a touchdown pass and he fumbled a ball, and he played like a rookie today.”
Perhaps it was bound to happen sooner or later.
Arians said he didn’t have to say much to Johnson when it came to the mistakes, because as he said, “it speaks for itself.”
Johnson said the coach told him it’s a long game and that he needed to move on from the mistakes and play well. He also received support from his teammates.
“Just give him confidence,” quarterback Carson Palmer said when asked what he told the rookie. “I told him, ‘You’re going to make up for it,’ and he did on the touchdown to give us a chance to come back and try to win the game.
“Those things happen.”
And though it wasn’t in the form of his words, it spoke volumes that Arians and the Cardinals stuck with the former Northern Iowa star. He was the primary back during the team’s final two drives. The coach said that was due to the fact that the rookie is the team’s nickel back, but the confidence it showed in Johnson meant something to the player.
“It definitely felt good to have him and Carson have trust in me, to throw me the ball,” the rookie said.
Johnson’s day was certainly one of ups and downs. His good plays (the touchdown catch, another early reception in which he bounced off defenders to get a first down) were really good, while the bad plays were, well, really bad.
“It was up and down,” he said. “Just got to go back — I had good plays, can’t really think about those. Got to go and learn from the ones I did bad on.”
Two weeks ago Johnson was the toast of Arizona, a rookie who helped the team win a road game with some big plays. Sunday, he wasn’t necessarily the goat, but the tables had indeed turn. Football can be a humbling game, right?
“Yeah, definitely,” Johnson said.
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