D’Ernest Johnson delivered the performance of his life when the lights shined the brightest on Thursday Night Football.
Like many of us, going into Thursday Night Football had us overwhelmed with feelings of dread and concern. Normally, a matchup with the Broncos on a three-game losing streak wouldn’t have had Browns fans worried that the team would be below .500 seven weeks into the season. Off of a fresh loss to the Cardinals, things needed to turn around fast. While many were probably looking for QB Case Keenum to be the savior of the night, it was instead the third-year running back out of USF who rose from the ashes of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to carry the workload.
D’Ernest Johnson was sensational against the Broncos rushing 22 times for 146 yards and one TD on the ground, along with two catches for 22 yards in the air. Going into this game Denver was the fourth-best rush defense in the NFL only allowing 85.5 yards per game. Johnson was constantly receiving compliments from announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman throughout the entire game. Everyone was in awe of his ability to break tackles and keep churning to gain the extra yards. Take the most important down of the game. It was 3rd and seven with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter. The Browns were looking to seal this game away and simply run out the clock. The play prior Johnson ran for nine yards on a 3rd and two to put the game away, however, a penalty on TE David Njoku for an illegal motion brought it back. Now, with the chance to close the door on a potential Broncos comeback Johnson comes back to run almost identically the same play. Johnson broke to the outside only to get wrapped around by Robinson of the Broncos. When it looked like he was going to go down, Johnson did what he had done all night. Johnson carried his defender to stretch over the first down marker and the stadium erupted.
D’Ernest Johnson was undrafted and unwanted initially. After some time in the AAF, he stood out enough to earn himself a tryout. Fast forward to Thursday night and you can see why Johnson ran with the passion and intensity in his first career start. This is what his whole life’s journey amounted to. A single chance to take ownership of a lead-back role. Johnson delivered on the biggest stage and I think it is safe to say with Kareem Hunt out for the foreseeable future that D’Ernest has a role carved out. I don’t think that the Browns will ever need to worry about their run game’s success when you have Chubb, Hunt, and now Johnson to carry the ball.