Johnson was KC's insurance policy in the event that Holmes couldn't fully recover from the hip injury that knocked him out of the final two games of the '02 campaign. The Chiefs have been paying premiums on this policy for a year-and-a-half, but used it only minimally -- 22 times, to be exact, the total number of Johnson touches prior to replacing the injured Holmes late in the third quarter of the Nov. 7 Tampa Bay loss.
Holmes' health has been remarkable since the December '02 injury in Denver, but he couldn't stay lucky forever. How long he will be down this time is anybody's guess, but anywhere from 2-4 weeks is common with a strained MCL.
"This is not the kind of injury where I can grit my teeth and play through it," Holmes told his the Kansas City Star. "This is the kind of injury that needs some rest."
With a 3-5 record heading into New Orleans and needing to win at least seven of their final eight games to even have a shot at returning to the playoffs, Kansas City can't afford a dramatic falloff in the offensive output that has kept the Chiefs if every game they've played this year.
Their hope this week is that they can still establish enough of a running threat against New Orleans' third-from-worst rushing defense to open up Trent Green's play-action passing game. With one of the league's best offensive lines, they should be able to do that this week, at least. Now, a week from Monday against New England might be an entirely different matter.
For the record, Johnson won't be the first man out of the bullpen in Holmes' absence. The first reliever is Derrick Blaylock, who in spot duty this year has been solid with a 4.7-yard average on 32 carries.
But, the Chiefs are not paying Blaylock, a fifth-round draft pick in 2001, what they are paying Johnson. If they are ever to find out if they have a running back for the long term should the 31-year-old Holmes decide he has had enough -- which could happen at any time, given Holmes' unpredictable nature -- they need to look at Johnson now.
The first glance against Tampa Bay was not impressive. Johnson was stuffed twice on two goal-line plays from the 1 and finished with 29 rushing yards on 10 carries.
Moreover, if Blaylock starts strong -- which he's capable of doing -- it may be hard to get Johnson the reps he says he needs to play instinctively.
Still, with Holmes down for possibly a month (on the long side), now is the time for the audition Johnson has been waiting for.
SERIES HISTORY: (8th Meeting)
Kansas City leads the all-time series 4-3 with victories in the last two; the last one coming in 1997. The Chiefs last played, and won, in the Superdome in 1994.