Bob Leverone, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Chris Johnson entered the media room following Tennessee's latest win, Matt Hasselbeck grinned and shouted across the room, "Fantasy points!"
Johnson smiled and laughed.
"Matt told me I was on his fantasy team, and that he stepped out at the 1 to help me get in the end zone," Johnson said with a laugh after scoring just his second rushing touchdown of the season in the Titans' 30-3 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. "So all of the fantasy owners have to thank Matt."
Johnson is laughing again, which is a good thing for the Titans. The fact that he's putting up big numbers again is even better.
After a lengthy training camp holdout Johnson appears to be hitting his stride — and just in time for a Titans team that is 5-4 and in need of a strong push down the stretch to make the playoffs.
Johnson came into the game with only 366 yards rushing, but had 174 yards from scrimmage and eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the first time since Oct. 2. Johnson carried 27 times for a season-high 130 yards, including 104 in the second half. Johnson's touchdown was set up when Hasselbeck scampered 21 yards on a quarterback bootleg before getting knocked out of bounds at the Carolina 1.
"We finally gave him carries. This was one of those games we have been waiting for," Titans coach Mike Munchak said.
Tennessee piled up 383 yards of offense, 172 on the ground.
"We were on the same page as an offense, executing plays," Johnson said. "Some of the plays we ran in the second half, we'd run in the first half and didn't have a lot of success. There are those situations as an offensive line and as a running back to get more of those opportunities to run the same plays, and eventually, it will work out."
The Titans also got big performances from their special teams and their defense.
Defensively, they put on spy on Cam Newton and tried to confuse him.
It worked to perfection.
Tennessee's defense left the rookie shaking his head in disbelief.
The Titans (5-4) sacked Newton five times, intercepted him once and took away Carolina's downfield passing game. The Panthers came in ranked fifth in the league on offense and first in plays of 20-plus yards, but the Titans limited Newton to 209 yards passing and held Steve Smith, the NFC's leading receiver, to 33 yards.
The Titans sacked Newton four times on first down and put the Panthers in several third-and-long situations.
"(Newton) holds the ball," said defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. "If a quarterback is going to hold onto the ball like that, we're going to get to him. We kept him in the pocket. He couldn't do anything but sit there. Having the spy on him meant he couldn't run, and our guys got to him."
After the game, Newton still seemed confused over what the Titans did exactly to disrupt what had been a potent offense throughout the first half of the season. Newton said he couldn't remember playing quarterback in a game in which his team didn't score a touchdown.
"Never, ever, ever," Newton said.
Newton's longest completion was 19 yards, and the Panthers failed to pick up a first down on seven of their 13 possessions.
"This is embarrassing, man," Newton repeated three times while shaking his head. "This is as poor of a performance as a team as I've ever seen. Poor performance by myself. There's no pointing fingers without looking at yourself and asking yourself what you could have done better. I know I could have done a lot of things better. It's a reality check, that's what it is. "
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