Chris Johnson runs through, around and over 49ers

Sep 27, 2015, 6:16 PM | Updated: 6:44 pm
Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson (23) celebrates a run against the San Francisco 49ers ...

Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson (23) celebrates a run against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein had no idea Chris Johnson eclipsed the 100-yard mark in his team’s 47-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers Sunday.

“Did he,” he asked when posed a question about. “That’s awesome.”

Left tackle Jared Veldheer, who was within earshot, asked how many the veteran back finished with.

The answer is 110, which he tallied on 22 carries.

“That makes us feel good,” Sendlein added.

Johnson also caught one pass for 40 yards, and scored a pair of touchdowns on the ground.

“To see his little signature dance,” a smiling Deone Bucannon said. “In person — you watch it on TV, when I was growing up I was watching that on TV, now I’m here in person, man.”

Man, indeed.

The 150 yards of offense on 23 total touches, along with the scores, present a box score befitting of a No. 1 running back. While that’s not necessarily Johnson’s role on the team, it appears to be one he could handle if need be.

“Chris is getting in football shape,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s starting to get in good shape and he can tote it.”

Arians added that rookie David Johnson is a good change-of-pace back, and then with Week 1 starter Andre Ellington seemingly on track to return from a PCL injury next week, the Cardinals will be set with a quality stable of runners.

But Sunday was Johnson’s day, his first 100-yard effort since Dec. 1 of last season and perhaps a message to everyone that the 30-year-old isn’t quite as finished as some people may have thought. He’s up to 219 yards and two touchdowns on 52 carries this season.

“It felt good to go out there and get the ball continuously and get in a groove to be out there and help my team try to get a win,” Johnson said.

Given the way the game went, it is probably fair to say the Cardinals may not have needed this kind of performance from Johnson. With two pick-sixes and a safety, their defense scored enough to earn the win. Yet in some ways, the former Tennessee Titan and New York Jet may have given the Cardinals exactly what they needed.

Last year, it took the Cardinals until Week 14 to have a single player reach the century mark in rushing yards. That it only took three games this year is, well, a positive sign.

As a team, Arizona has run for more than 100 yards in all three games to start the season, a feat that has not been accomplished by the franchise since 1988.

And that it was Johnson — who was signed by the team during training camp — who led the way shows just what kind of depth the team has in the backfield.

“That’s hard, that’s a great question,” Arians said when asked why Johnson was even available to them when he was. “I don’t know how he was on the street. Steve (Keim) has done a great job though of finding those guys for us.”

Another treasure found among the scrap heap? Three games in, that appears to be the case.

“To see Chris get in the open field like that and cut back on the one pass play,” QB Carson Palmer said. “He’s just a guy, he somehow, some way, finds a way to not lose yardage when bad plays happen, which happen every game — every great running team, it’s part of the deal. He just finds a way to get past that front yardage stick and find a way to get us in, if it’s first down, to get us second and eight or second and seven when it should be second and 11.

“But to see him get in the open field and run with power, something you don’t assume he has. To see him protect. He picked up a couple pressures and safety blitzes. He does such a good job in protection and stuff and helps me out and gives me a chance to hold onto the ball a second longer. He’s a great addition to this team.”

That Johnson, who came to Arizona with 8,628 rushing yards, 51 rushing touchdowns and three Pro Bowl appearances under his belt can surprise people is in many ways a surprise in itself. But as he slowly works his way into playing shape — Arians said Johnson had more quickness and suddenness along with better stamina Sunday than he has had all season — it’s not unreasonable to believe a performance like the one he had Sunday is repeatable, if given enough carries.

That may not happen once Ellington is healthy, but that’s fine with Johnson. He said he doesn’t view his big game as any kind of validation, a way of showing people that he’s still got what it takes to be a top back.

“I just want to come out here and make the most of every opportunity that I get,” he said. “If it’s five, six, 10 touches, I just want to make the most of every time I touch the ball.”

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