The Cleveland Browns entered Thursday's game against the Denver Broncos without star running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt available. But they plugged in another player capable of rushing for more than 100 yards at will.
In his first career start -- an opportunity that was three years in the making -- third-stringer D'Ernest Johnson thrived, rushing for 146 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown in the Browns' 17-14 primetime win at FirstEnergy Stadium. Before the game, the former undrafted free agent had just 198 rushing yards for his entire career.
"It's an unfortunate situation where both running backs got injured, but I just prepared myself like I always do every week, no matter if I'm going in to play or not," Johnson told the Tiki and Tierney show on Friday. "I go in, take care of my body, watch extra film, and do what I do every day. I didn't change nothing at all. I just continued to be me, and do what I do on the regular...
"I'm still trying to soak it all in, just embrace everything. Having LeBron James [tweet at me], I grew up a LeBron fan. That's one of the best feelings in the world. For him to recognize me and send a tweet out like that, it means a lot coming from him. And I'm thankful just to be in this position."
Cleveland wasn't only missing its dynamic one-two punch in the backfield. Baker Mayfield didn't play against the Broncos due to a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, which he initially suffered in Week 2. To make matters even worse, the fourth-year starter told Jay Glazer of Fox Sports on Thursday that he also fractured his humerus, which is preventing his rotator cuff from firing.
Mayfield is expected to require surgery to repair his shoulder, but the team is hopeful that he can play through pain and undergo an offseason procedure. At the moment, it's unclear when Mayfield will be cleared to return to action.
"It's a tough injury. We hate that it happened to Baker. But he's a warrior, man," Johnson said. "He's going to fight his tail off just to get back out there. And if he's not playing, he's going to be cheering. He's a great player, a great leader to the football team. He knows we've got his back, no matter what."
Cleveland (4-3) will host the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3) in a Week 8 matchup on Sunday, Oct. 31. According to FiveThirtyEight's projections, the Browns have a 55-percent chance to reach the playoffs and an 13-percent chance to win the AFC North.
The entire Browns conversation between Johnson and Tiki and Tierney can be accessed in the audio player above.