KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson made the first tackle in the game. And he made the last.
Precious little escaped Johnson in the unbeaten Chiefs’ 23-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, whether he was stuffing running back Willis McGahee, knocking the snot out of fullback Chris Ogbonnaya or dropping back and covering receivers.
Johnson was credited with a game-high 12 tackles, including two for losses; had a quarterback hurry; and a pass defended in what he said was “probably my best game.”
“We pride ourselves on playing defense … once again we held them to 17 and under, and that seems to be the number for us right now,” Johnson said of the most points the Chiefs have allowed in their 8-0 start.
Johnson set the tone on the Chiefs’ first two defensive plays of the game. He stopped McGahee for a 2-yard loss, and on second down dropped into coverage and tackled tight end MarQueis Gray, who caught a pass for 5 yards.
On Cleveland’s second possession, McGahee caught a pass in the flat on third-and-2 but Johnson stopped him for no gain and forced the Browns to punt.
“Derrick Johnson’s fun to watch,” said Chiefs defensive end Mike DeVito. “He’s so fast. The plays can’t develop because he’s in there making the tackles.”
Johnson may have saved his best hit for late when he jarred his shoulder into Ogbonnaya, separating him from the ball on a short pass, and dropping him to the turf.
“I just took my opportunities,” Johnson said. “I was in zone coverage, just read (Jason) Campbell’s eyes, and Chris Ogbonnaya is a Texas guy, so I had to give him a little taste of what we do over here with the Chiefs.”
The Chiefs defense started strong, holding the Browns without a first down in their first three possessions and to minus-1 yard rushing in the first half, enabling Kansas City to jump to a 13-0 lead.
The Browns threw a bit of a scare into the Chiefs defense, which allowed two touchdowns for the third time this season, failed to create a turnover (the punt coverage unit recovered a muff), and had a season-low one sack.
“I’m never surprised in the NFL,” Johnson said of the Browns making a game of it in the second half. “You go out and play really well … they had 18 yards before they got going in the second quarter.
“Teams are going to be scheming us not to give up sacks … everybody is going to give us their best, and we know that. People make plays on us at times. Our confidence is still high.”
Once the Browns drew to within 20-17 with 9:58 left in the third quarter, Johnson drew the line.
“I kept telling the guys, they’re at 17, they’re at the max,” Johnson said. “That’s the most we’ve given up all year. They got to it pretty early. That fourth quarter, I’d bet on our team any time. We pride ourselves on being tough, physically and mentally.
“But that number 17 seems to work for us. When the fourth quarter comes, and they have to score on us, as a defense, we’re riled up. A team can score 17, but you have to score more than 17 to beat the Chiefs.”
The Chiefs’ victory wasn’t assured until Johnson wrapped up Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon at the end of a 9-yard reception as the final seconds of the clock ticked off.
In the process, Johnson ran his total of career tackles to 935, which surpassed Chiefs Hall of Fame safety Deron Cherry’s 927 for third on the club’s all-time list.
Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowler and the club’s first-round draft pick in 2005, is unofficially 64 short of the franchise-record 999 tackles set by linebacker Gary Spani during 1978-86.
“I’m just trying to stay healthy and get better every day and keep winning with my teammates, and the tackles are going to come,” Johnson said. “I racked up a few (on Sunday) so I hope I can keep climbing that list.”