The Cleveland Browns weren't exactly sure how this week's matchup was going to go with the injuries to Baker Mayfield and their top two running backs. D'Ernest Johnson made sure things were business as usual in Cleveland.
Making his first career start, Johnson rushed for a career-high 146 yards and a touchdown in the Browns' 17-14 victory over the Denver Broncos. Johnson's 146 rushing yards are the most for any player in his first career start since Kareem Hunt rushed for 148 yards in 2017 and Cadillac Williams rushed for the same amount in 2005. Johnson came into Thursday night's game with 198 career rushing yards in 38 games, including three carries for 11 yards this season.
For Johnson, Thursday night's game he will never forget. "It's unexplainable. I wanted to celebrate but I didn't know what to do. It's been a long journey," said the third-year back.
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Johnson is in his third year with the Browns, used primarily as a special-teamer as the third running back to Nick Chubb and Hunt. With both Chubb and Hunt out with calf injuries, Johnson got the call to perform on national television and took advantage of the opportunity. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Johnson gained a career-high +53 rushing yards over expected and outgained his expectation on 15 of his 22 carries (68.2%) -- the second-highest rate in a game since 2018 (minimum 20 carries).
Just two years ago, Johnson was in the Alliance of American Football, recording 592 scrimmage yards in eight games with the Orlando Apollos. He even direct messaged teams in the then-upstart AAF looking for a football career. His best game in the NFL to date was having 13 carries for 95 yards against the Dallas Cowboys last season, as he finished with 33 carries for 166 yards in 2020.
Per NFL Research, Johnson is the third Browns running back to have 100-plus scrimmage yards in a game this season, joining Chubb and Hunt. The Browns are the only team in the NFL to have three running backs with 100-plus scrimmage yards (five teams don't have one running back with that amount), a testament to head coach Kevin Stefanski's offensive scheme and their offensive line.
Johnson added two catches for 22 yards. The Browns needed someone to step up on offense to salvage their season, a call Johnson answered.
Thanks to Johnson's heroics, Cleveland is 4-3 and still alive in a brutal AFC.