Vikings WR Johnson posts career-best 103-yard performance in win over Jets
MINNEAPOLIS -- Charles Johnson assumed his position in front of his locker at TCF Bank Stadium, a media semicircle peppering the Vikings' suddenly popular wide receiver about seizing the moment yet again.
The cat is totally out of the bag on Johnson. Cleveland's practice-squad castoff and Green Bay's seventh-round flameout has become Minnesota's most reliable playmaker in the passing game.
His 56-yard touchdown reception highlighted a career-best 103-yard performance in Sunday's 30-24 overtime victory over the New York Jets.
Jarius Wright stole the headlines with his game-winning touchdown sprint in overtime, but Charles Johnson is trending in a Vikings passing attack that is maturing under quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
"I'm not surprised at all," he said. "I come out every day to work as hard as I can. Get an opportunity, you take advantage of it."
Johnson has been repeating that mantra the past four weeks as he stockpiled receptions, yards and chemistry with Bridgewater.
His emergence parallels the regression of last year's hot topic, Cordarrelle Patterson, who lost his starting job to Johnson and is unlikely to reclaim it in 2014.
Johnson's touchdown catch ignited the Vikings' offense late in the first quarter, erasing a tentative 9-7 New York lead.
He easily beat Darrin Walls in single coverage and was 5 yards ahead of the cornerback when he looked back to haul in Bridgewater's pass in stride at the 15-yard line for an easy waltz into the end zone.
"He threw a great ball," Johnson said. "I knew it was going to come to me because the coverage they played, they rolled up (the safety) on Jarius' side. I knew there was a great chance the ball was coming to me."
Asked about the connection with Bridgewater, the former Louisville Cardinals star, Johnson had a simple explanation.
"I don't know. I get open. He throws great balls. I catch them," Johnson said. "I'd like to believe it's because he played at a school from Kentucky and I'm from Kentucky. That might be a connection."
Bridgewater lauded Johnson's worth ethic and patience.
"He's a great route runner," Bridgewater said. "He's a guy who's going to continue to work hard. We've seen nothing but flashes from him ever since he's arrived here."
Johnson's background is familiar but worth rehashing.
He played at Eastern Kentucky and Antelope Valley Community College in California before taking a year off from football to help care for his seriously ill father in Kentucky.
Two seasons at Division II Grand Valley State put Johnson on the NFL radar -- barely.
The Packers drafted him 216th overall in 2013. However a knee injury suffered during minicamp plagued him all year and relegated him to the practice squad.
Jettisoned from Green Bay, he landed in Cleveland. Another injury marginalized Johnson's chances with the Browns.
When Adrian Peterson was exiled and Jerome Simpson was released, the Vikings took a flyer on him, signing him off another practice squad Sept. 20.
"He continues to show every week," said coach Mike Zimmer. "He's got good acceleration and he can get guys off of him. Then he feels routes and he feels the zone. He's got strong hands as well."
Not strong enough, however, to hold onto his second touchdown of the game.
Early in the second quarter, Bridgewater hit Johnson at the 5. He turned upfield but while stretching the ball across the goal line, Johnson was drilled by Jets safety Jaiquawn Jarrett and fumbled.
Fortunately for Johnson, teammate Jerome Felton pounced on the loose ball for the fullback's first career touchdown.
"I was going down trying to throw a block to spring him into the end zone," Felton said. "Kirby (Wilson), our running backs coach, is always talking about running to the ball and finishing plays. It paid off there."
Perhaps Johnson owes Felton dinner for bailing him out of an ugly turnover.
"I might owe him dinner getting my first touchdown," Felton countered. "I was like, 'I appreciate that.' "
Johnson also lamented missed big-play opportunities, including a wide-open drop that would have resulted in another chunk of yardage.
He has work to do this week to "clean them up." Expect Johnson to report for duty on time and ready to roll.
"I try to take advantage of what people take for granted because I've worked for everything in my life," he said.