Chris Johnson paid tribute to the victims of last Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Conn., by writing the names of all 20 fallen first graders from Sandy Hook Elementary on his shoes before Monday’s 14-10 win over the Jets in Nashville.
The Tennessee Titans’ All-Pro running back then made sure a nationally televised audience received a closer look at his Nike Superbad Pro cleats with a 94-yard, second-quarter touchdown run. Johnson provided the Titans (5-9) with a spark on the longest touchdown run in franchise history before Tennessee knocked the Jets (6-8) out of playoff contention by forcing turnovers on New York's final three drives.
It was a stinging loss for a Jets team that needed wins in its final three games and some help to earn a berth in the postseason. Instead, QB Mark Sanchez tossed four interceptions, including two in the final 7:09 to kill those hopes.
Sanchez put the Jets in position for a game-winning touchdown in the final three minutes but was picked off by Titans safety Michael Griffin near the end zone on a pass intended for TE Jeff Cumberland in triple-coverage.
Improbably, the Jets still had a chance for the win after a 19-yard punt by Titans P Brett Kern late in the game. On the ensuing play, though, a low snap by Jets C Nick Mangold was mishandled by Sanchez and recovered by Titans LB Zach Brown.
"It's a devastating loss," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Out of the playoffs. It hurts beyond belief and the thing that hurts the most is that we have nobody to blame but ourselves."
Ryan said he never considered pulling Sanchez, believing up to the end that he could still rally New York to victory.
"At times he looked fantastic, we had the protection, he made some big throws," Ryan said. "Other times, obviously, it was disappointing."
Johnson was anything but disappointing.
A pancake block by C Kyle DeVan on Jets NT Sione Pouha and a combination block by OLs Deuce Lutui and Mike Otto on Jets DT Mike DeVito provided Johnson with a crease up the middle on the 94-yard touchdown. Johnson exploded through the gap, cut slightly to his right and sprinted past Jets S Yeremiah Bell for the score.
Johnson said he plans to auction off the cleats for charity.
“It was a situation when you have kids and you see that on the news, and it’s heartbreaking,” said Johnson of the tragic shooting. “It’s just something in tribute for those families. I know they’re hurting.”
When the game turned: With the Titans trailing 10-7 late in the third quarter, QB Jake Locker led his team quickly down the field on a seven-play, 64-yard drive in less than three minutes. The drive culminated in a 13-yard touchdown run by Locker on a bootleg to the left. Locker’s touchdown gave the Titans the lead for the good.
Highlight moments: Cumberland appeared to have scored on a 4-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, but the play was later overturned. The Jets settled for a 22-yard field goal by Nick Folk for a 3-0 lead. ... Titans CB Jason McCourty notched his second interception of the game when Sanchez overshot Cumberland across the middle early in the third quarter. ... The Jets took a 14-10 lead on a 17-yard touchdown by Cumberland on a third-and-12 with 3:25 left in the third.
• Titans RB Chris Johnson -- 21 carries, 122 rushing yards, TD
• Titans S Michael Griffin -- Two interceptions, six tackles and two passes defended
• Titans LB Zach Brown -- Two sacks, seven tackles, fumble recovery
• Jets DT Mike Devito -- Team-high eight tackles, 1 TFL
What they said about Johnson’s 94- yard touchdown run:
- Titans RB Chris Johnson -- “It was an inside zone play. Once I jumped through the line, I saw nothing but daylight. They put so many guys in the box, no matter what lane you have if you get by those guys there’s a chance you can go all the way.”
- Titans C Kyle DeVan -- “We ran a zone to the weakside and they gave us a five-down front. It was basically man on man. You just want to cover everyone up and have CJ do what’s made him a great running back -- and that’s find holes.”
- Titans QB Jake Locker -- “Once he gets to the second level, I’m willing to say that 100 percent of the time you’ll be celebrating with him in the end zone. He hit that hole so quick that he just caught them out of position a little bit.”
What they said about Sanchez's performance:
- Jets QB Mark Sanchez -- "I'm not playing well enough for us to win. Made a couple of bad throws. I've just got to play better. That's all im worried about -- elevating my play, taking care of the football, making some better throws and not hurting the team."
- Jets coach Rex Ryan -- "I'm not ready to say who will be our quarterback next game. Not ready to do that."
What they said about the Jets' late fumble:
- Jets coach Rex Ryan -- "You're still alive. You think you still have a chance to win the game and then that happens. That's about as bad as it gets."
Numbers you should know: Johnson set an NFL record in October for rushing touchdowns of 80 yards or more with an 83-yard burst down the left sidelines against the Bills. The Titans’ All-Pro running back now has six touchdowns of 80 yards or more in his five-year career. Four others, including Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson, are tied for second with three. ... With four interceptions against the Jets, the Titans have nine interceptions in their last five games. In the Titans’ first nine games of the season, they recorded just six.
Injury update: Titans -- C Kevin Matthews left the game in the first half with an ankle injury and didn’t return. WR Kendall Wright suffered a rib injury after landing awkwardly on Jets CB Antonio Cromartie’s hip early in the fourth quarter. Wright said after the game that he wanted to return but knew he cracked his rib when he tried to jog on the sidelines.
Going forward: Titans -- They travel to Green Bay to face the Packers in their final road game of the season. Tennessee finishes the season on Dec. 30 with a home game against the Jaguars. Jets -- They host the Chargers at home before concluding the season with a game on the road at Buffalo.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Tennessee Titans, follow Matt Rybaltowski @CBSTitans.