NASHVILLE – Former Titans running back Chris Johnson was back in Foxborough over the weekend, and this time he had plenty to celebrate.
First, there was a memory he needed to replace.
"The last time I was there with the Titans, it was snowing, and the field was white," said Johnson, referring to a game in October of 2009. "And the Patriots beat us 59-zip. It was crazy."
The reason Johnson was at Tennessee's 20-13 playoff win over the Patriots also made him smile. He was a guest of controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk, and he watched the game in the owner's suite.
"Me and Miss Amy, we celebrated together," Johnson said. "To have such a bond like we do, and for her to make me feel so appreciated like that, it means a lot to me."
And Johnson admits he was especially happy for Titans running back Derrick Henry, who led the way. Henry ran for 182 yards in the Saturday's game, picking up where he left off during a regular season when he led the NFL in rushing.
Henry's career has taken off in the past two seasons, just as Johnson predicted it would. And Henry is a large reason why the Titans are now preparing to play the Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs.
"He's phenomenal, man," Johnson said of Henry. "I remember people saying earlier in his career he didn't run hard enough, or he wasn't this or that. … I remember talking to him when I was (in Nashville) a while back and I told him: Just keep running hard, keep doing what you do. And that's what he is doing.
"Derrick, he is the type of running back who needs touches. You can't give him the football five times in the first half and a couple of times here and there and expect him to do big things. He is the type of back where you have to run him. I was the same type of way – you have to give me the ball, give me the ball, give me the ball, so I can get in a groove. Derrick Henry is the type of back where he is so big, they don't want to hit him. I always said, just give him the ball 25-30 times a game and he will lead them, and that's what they did, and you see what's happening. He's having an incredible season."
Johnson, the electrifying back who played for the Titans from 2008-2013, departed as the franchise's No. 3 all-time rusher with 7,965 yards, behind Eddie George (10,009) and Earl Campbell (8,574). Johnson's run with the Titans was highlighted by a 2009 season when he became just the sixth back in NFL history to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark in a season while leading the NFL in rushing.
In 2019, Henry finished as the NFL's top rusher with 1,540 yards, giving him 3,883 yards in his first four NFL seasons.
In the locker room after Saturday's win, Johnson and Henry embraced.
Johnson said he's a "big fan" of Henry, and said he's rooted for him throughout his career.
"Every time I come to Tennessee, it is not like we hang out, but there's a certain type of bond and it is the same way with me and Eddie," Johnson said. "Eddie is older than me, so we don't hang out, but when we see each other it is all love. It's the same way with me and Derrick. It is a bond we have as running backs for this franchise."
On Saturday night in Baltimore, Johnson hopes to replace another bad memory - a loss to the Ravens in the 2008 season's playoffs - with a good one.
A first-round draft pick of the Titans in 2008, Johnson has painful memories of the team's 13-10 playoff loss to the Ravens, in Nashville. The Titans were the AFC's No.1 seed that season, like the Ravens are this season.
The Titans jumped out to a 7-0 lead that night on an eight-yard run by Johnson, who was rolling early, with 72 rushes on 11 carries. Then he suffered a high ankle sprain, and he couldn't finish the game.
"Somebody twisted it under the pile," Johnson said of his ankle.
"I would love to see us beat them (on Saturday) -- we owe them," Johnson continued. "Just like the Patriots, who beat us 59-0, we owed them, and we owe the Ravens, too. They came and knocked us out when we were the No.1 seed so we are trying to do the same thing they did to us.
"That loss, it was tough for me. That was my first year in the NFL, my first year in the playoffs, and I didn't see the playoffs again until I got to Arizona. I was having such a good game and for me to get hurt and not being able to finish that game, I feel like if I had not gotten hurt, we would have won that game, so it was very tough on me."
Johnson, who played one season with the Jets (2014) and three seasons with the Cardinals (2015-17) after leaving Tennessee, said Amy Adams Strunk has extended an invitation for him to join her and the team again this weekend in Baltimore.
He's hoping to make it happen.
Johnson said he's a big Titans fan and feels as appreciated as ever, thanks to "Miss Amy."
"The Titans, that's the team that gave me a chance, so they'll always be my team," said Johnson, who signed a one-day contract and retired as a Titan last year. "And really, I wish that Amy was the owner when I was there. The relationship that me and Amy began to establish since I started coming for Alumni Weekend, it is more than me just coming to the games. Me and her, we have each other's phone numbers and we talk all the time. Anything I need, she's got me, and anything she needs from me, I got her.
"So I really feel like if Amy was there when I was there, I feel like I never would have left the Titans. I feel like I would have played my whole career there because we would have had a tight relationship.
"It was cool to be there with her, celebrating in Foxborough. Hopefully we can celebrate together again."