NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Maybe the holdout that cost Chris Johnson all of training camp and the preseason will lead to a silver lining for the Tennessee Titans after all.
While Johnson has struggled for most of the season, three of his four 100-yard rushing games have come in the past month. The speed and acceleration missing since he signed a four-year, $53 million contract extension in September was on display during a 153-yard, two-touchdown performance in Tennessee's 23-17 win at Buffalo on Sunday.
Could Johnson missing two weeks of training camp on top of four weeks in the preseason actually have him fresher for the season's stretch run?
"That's what we're hoping," Titans coach Mike Munchak said Monday. "We're looking at it that way now, that it's an advantage for us coming down the stretch, that we become the best running football team the last eight weeks of the season and hopefully into the playoffs. That's how we have to spin it when you struggle early."
Over the past four games, Johnson has averaged 121.5 yards rushing per game, which includes a 13-yard struggle against Atlanta on Nov. 20, Tennessee's only loss in that span. He had a 48-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against the Bills, his longest run of the season.
The Titans' resurgence in the run game has helped lead them to a 7-5 record, already better than last year's disappointing 6-10 finish. They're in a four-way tie with Cincinnati, Oakland and the New York Jets for the final AFC wild-card spot.
Cincinnati currently holds the advantage with a 6-4 conference record, with the Titans a half-game back at 5-4 in AFC games.
Munchak isn't ready to start scoreboard watching just yet with the 9-3 New Orleans Saints coming to town Sunday, but he does know the Titans are finally showing the type of ground game he had expected all season. He also knows those performances have to continue to make a playoff push a reality.
"Three of the last four weeks, the numbers have been more of what we think we need to do, and we all know that it all depends on these last four weeks now," he said. "We've just got to keep it going. But we can't get caught up in, 'We've got it going now,' because that means nothing going into the Saints game. What we did last week gives us confidence, but it doesn't guarantee us that he's going to run for 150 yards a game because that's what we're doing now."
Johnson said the Titans' running game will keep contributing as it has the past few games in order help bolster the offense for the season's final month.
"It's real big because at the beginning of the season the passing game carried us, and now it's time for the running game to step it up," he said. "Anytime you want to build a full team, and hopefully make it to the Super Bowl, you're going to have to have all the elements."