Young Cardinals back David Johnson joining elite company

December 5, 2016
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) runs for a touchdown as Washington Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller (38) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — David Johnson’s NFL career is only 28 games old, and already he is being compared to some of the great running backs of the game.

Statistics bear those comparisons out, and his performance in the Arizona Cardinals’ 31-23 victory over Washington on Sunday did nothing to diminish such talk.

Johnson’s multi-purpose skills were on full display when he rushed 18 times for 84 yards and a touchdown and caught nine passes for 91 yards and a score.

With those statistics, the second-year player and third-round pick out of Northern Iowa, became the second player in NFL history to top 100 yards per game in the first 12 games of a season. Hall of Famer Edgerrin James did it in a record 13 games to start the 2005 season.

Johnson joins another Hall of Famer, Marshall Faulk, as the only players to have 1,000 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving through 12 games.

Faulk did it in 1998, scoring six touchdowns in the process. Johnson has an NFL-leading 15 TDs.

Arizona coach Bruce Arians was an assistant coach at Indianapolis when first Faulk, then James were there.

Johnson, Arians said, “reminds me a lot of those guys.”

The lofty comparisons are nothing new to the quiet Johnson.

“It’s a great achievement just to hear that,” he said. “to be talked about amongst those great players.”

Johnson mostly just smiles on the field when he’s doing his damage. There’s no chest-thumping over his success.

“I think it’s the past, growing up, not getting looked at (by big colleges),” he said of his humility, “still not getting looked at going into the pros. I think those are the main things. Also, I’m a Christian and reading the Bible and God is letting me know to be humble amongst men.”

Johnson caught a 25-yard touchdown pass and scored on a one-yard run against the Redskins, but it was a play late in the game that was most crucial.

Late in the fourth quarter and leading 24-23, the Cardinals had the ball fourth-and-one at their own 34-yard line and Arians called for one of his characteristic gambles, going for it.

Arizona went with its bread-and-butter play, giving the ball to Johnson behind left tackle D.J. Humphries.

Johnson ripped off a 14-yard gain and, moments later, Carson Palmer threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Nelson to make it an eight-point game

“He’s going to make you right most of the time,” Humphries said of his young running back. “He was really just supposed to cram that for a yard. We only needed a yard. He saw a little seam right there and said ‘Let me hit that.’”

After the game, Palmer called Johnson “the best player in the NFL — point blank.”

“I think he’s proven that,” Palmer said. “Our wins and losses have affected some of the hype that he has not gotten and other guys have gotten because they are on winning teams. He’s the best player in the NFL.”

Larry Fitzgerald called the fourth-and-one play “a gutsy call that I knew coach would make.”

“I mean, what do we have to lose at this point,” Fitzgerald said. ”. ... I just knew that getting the ball in the — I think the National Football League’s MVP in David Johnson — getting the ball in his hands and let him do what he does. He delivered as he always does.”

Johnson wasn’t the only one mentioned among the game’s greats after Sunday’s contest.

With his 10 catches and 78 yards, Fitzgerald moved past Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison into third on the NFL’s career receptions list (1,106). He has caught a pass in 191 consecutive games, third-longest streak in league history.

Fitzgerald also became the youngest player to reach 1,100 receptions — from 16 different quarterbacks.

Sunday was his 13th double-digit reception game.


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