With a 7-8 record, most teams have little to play for in the final week of the season. A .500 record usually doesn't get you in the playoffs, and moral victories, for all the talk about them, really don't count for much in the grand scheme of things.
The Tennessee Titans, however, had the rare opportunity to play for something truly special this week: Titans running back Chris Johnson was tantalizingly close to breaking a 25 year-old rushing record, and every player on the team was anxious to take the field and help him get it.
It wasn't going to be easy; Seattle Seahawks head coach Jim Mora, Jr. was adamant about the Seahawks not being a footnote in NFL history. He made no secret of the fact that Chris Johnson was going to have to earn every yard in pursuit of his goal.
For three quarters, it looked like Mora's Seahawks had done the job. Johnson had already achieved two goals in the game—breaking Marshall Faulk's combined yards from scrimmage record, and achieving 2,000 yards for the season—but he was quite a ways off the 2,105 yard mark that Dickerson set in 1984.
Then it happened, the moment that Titans fans had been waiting for, and the one that the Seahawks had desperately tried to avoid all game.
Early in the fourth quarter, Johnson broke free and scampered downfield for 62 yards, bringing him within 44 yards of Dickerson's record. For a moment, the fans cheered loudly until they slowly realized that there was a flag on the play.
The anguish was palpable as head referee Ed Hochuli called holding on Ahmard Hall, nullifying both the touchdown and the yardage.
Except there was no holding. Not that anyone other than Hochuli could see, at least.
Hall came through the line and blew up the Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne, who was waiting in the gap for Chris Johnson. Hawthorne was not only stopped, but knocked on his keister as Johnson blew by him.
As far as I remember, that's what a fullback is supposed to do. Hall didn't fall on top of him, didn't pull him down, didn't even get his hands outside of the defensive player's shoulders. He BLOCKED him.
But none of that seems to matter to Hochuli. As has been his penchant for the last couple of years, he occasionally makes calls in critical situations that no one can explain, not even him.
The result, of course, did not affect the outcome of the game. The Titans went on to win 17-13, which got them to 8-8, but that did not fall in line with the player's stated goal of getting CJ the record.
It had a devastating effect on the record pursuit. Not only did Johnson gain six net yards rushing after that play, but the Titans played kneel down on their last series without giving Johnson a shot to gain more yards.
Not that it mattered at that point. With 100 yards left to gain, the Titans needed two posesions to get it, and at that point it wasn't happening.
Had Johnson been within 40 yards of the record with 1:12 left on the clock, odds are they would have at least given him a shot or two at getting it on the last possession.
It wasn't a total loss for CJ; he did get the combined yardage record, and he will now be mentioned as being among the elite when total rushing yards in a season are mentioned.
He also set franchise records for yards in a season and consecutive 100-yard games, surpasing Hal of Fame great Earl Campbell.
But thanks to Ed Hochuli's decision to make a call with serious historical implications, Eric Dickerson's record stands for another year.
I just have one question: When is the NFL going to do something about referees deciding things?
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