Teammate Damian Williams compared Chris Johnson's 153-yard performance against the Bills to Michael Jordan's legendary “Flu Game” versus the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals. Johnson revealed Sunday night that he hadn’t eaten a full meal since breaking out for 190 yards against the Bucs, losing 10 pounds in a week.
“I can’t lie, I felt weak out there,” Johnson explained. “It was pretty hard to practice all week. It was the flu or something, I don’t know, but it was bad. I just had to push through it because we have to continue to win if we want to make the playoffs.” Johnson was one of handful of high-profile players battling a virus this week. While all of them excelled, Johnson is the top story after finally showing 2000-yard form at Buffalo.
We noted last week that Johnson was nearly vintage CJ2K last week. After watching Sunday’s game on NFL.com’s Game Rewind, I’m confident that he’s now 100 percent the player he was in 2009. Johnson was patient yet decisive, made sharp cuts, and every carry had the potential to go to the house. Whereas Javon Ringer had a stronger burst as a change-of-pace back early in the season, he looked like he was running in quicksand contrasted against Johnson’s silly speed on Sunday. This marked his first multi-touchdown game since October 2010, he had cleared 100 yards by halftime, and the 48-yard score was a season long. Johnson is now up to nine career rushing touchdowns of 45+ yards, tied for fourth all-time behind Hall of Famers Barry Sanders (18), Jim Brown (13), and O.J. Simpson (10).
Fantasy owners who managed to survive Johnson’s 366 yards and one touchdown through eight weeks are poised to reap the benefits of a back exploding for 486 yards and three scores in the past four games. The Titans draw the Saints (4.9 yards per carry) in Week 14 and the Colts (30th in run defense) in Week 15.
“Great running backs like that, you don’t lose it overnight,” FB Ahmard Hall said Sunday. “We had a lot of problems with myself, the tight ends, the offensive line early. And now we have that fixed pretty much. Now we have to keep putting up these 100 yard games.” Added Johnson, “I feel like we’re finally clicking on all cylinders.”
Not to be outdone by Johnson, Percy Harvin established a career-high with 156 yards on eight receptions after missing Friday’s practice and Saturday’s walkthrough due to illness. In a shootout that boasted nine plays of 20+ yards, Harvin had the game’s two longest scores (52, 48 yards), taking two short passes the distance.
Since Adrian Peterson went down, rookie Christian Ponder is showing increased confidence in his top receiver. Already just 12 yards shy of a career-high in scrimmage yards, Harvin is averaging 12.3 touches for 125.3 yards and a total of four touchdowns over the past three weeks. In fact, his touches and production have increased in each of Ponder’s six starts this season: 4-23-0; 8-77-1; 9-70-0; 11-94-1; 13-106-1; 13-175-2.
“He’s an amazing athlete,” coach Leslie Frazier said Sunday night. “He was ill on Friday; he wasn’t able to get in to work. He wasn’t feeling too good on Saturday. He went out and played a good game. He’s a great player, great competitor, and has no quit in him at all. I can’t say enough about his effort and his heart.”
While we’re on the subject, Arian Foster (152 yards, TD) tweeted Sunday night that his immune system was in a “holy war” with a virus on Sunday. Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who had matched Johnson’s 12-pound weight loss while battling a virus earlier in the week, stymied the interior pass rush of a Bengals squad that sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times the last time the two teams met.
Rob Gronkowski - A disappointing game from Gronk is as rare as a squonk’s tears. When his third touchdown reception was ruled a lateral, Gronk went from breaking the single-season mark for tight ends jointly held by Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis to becoming the first with a touchdown catch and touchdown run in the same game. Gronkowski has now scored 24 touchdowns in his first 27 career regular season games, and his 176 fantasy points are more than any wide receiver save Calvin Johnson. It will be interesting to see if he draws first-round consideration in fantasy drafts next summer.
Ray Rice - Ravens OC Cam Cameron is no longer under fire for an offense skewing too heavily toward the pass. Rice has had three games with fewer than 10 carries this season, he’s toted the rock 20+ times in each of the past three weeks. Already over 100 yards against an injury-depleted Cleveland defense, Rice broke off a 67-yard run only to lose the short touchdown to Ricky Williams. With 214 yards and at score of his own, though, Rice is now second only to LeSean McCoy in fantasy points.
Aaron Rodgers - The MVP favorite would have cleared 400 yards if not for a series of drops by Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings, but the receiving corps made up for those miscues with a display of ridiculous body control along the sidelines. Rodgers completed 21-of-25 attempts for 265 yards and three touchdowns outside the numbers. With a pair of surgical strikes to Finley and Jordy Nelson, Rodgers needed all of 14 seconds to put the Packers in field-goal range when Eli Manning left just less than a minute on the clock after tying the game at 35. “I’m running out of things to say about him,” said coach Mike McCarthy. The Packers’ 18 consecutive wins are tied for second-most all-time behind the 2003-04 Patriots, who won 21 straight.
Cam Newton - On the same afternoon where he broke Steve Grogan’s 1976 mark of 12 rushing scores, Newtown became just the third player in NFL history with a touchdown pass, three rush scores, and a reception in the same game, joining LaDainian Tomlinson and Ronnie Brown. Yes, lost amid the rushing scores was a 27-yard catch. Matching Rodgers’ 39 standard-scoring fantasy points, Newton is also the first quarterback with three rushing touchdowns in a game since Daunte Culpepper with the Raiders in 2007.
Drew Brees - Behind 342 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions, Brees became the first player in NFL history with 4,000+ passing yards in his team's first 12 games of a season. He’s also the fourth QB in NFL history with 30+ TD passes in four different seasons, joining Brett Favre (9), Petyon Manning (6), and Dan Marino (4). Up to 1,050 yards, Jimmy Graham is first tight end in Saints history to top the 1,000 mark.
Willis McGahee - Football Outsiders noted several years back that a decrease in a running back’s efficiency as a receiver is often a harbinger of a swift decline. By that measure, McGahee appeared to be washed up coming off averages of 3.9 and 5.7 yards per reception in 2009 and 2010. He was supposed to be winding down, not on the verge of one of his finest seasons at age 30. McGahee is tied for the NFL lead with six 100-yard performances to go with a rushing average of 4.9 yards per carry. As Gregg Rosenthal has been ranking him the past month, McGahee is a borderline RB1 option.