NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As teammates dressed and packed up around him, Trumaine Johnson remained at his stall in the visiting locker room at Nissan Stadium on Sunday evening, shirt off, face turned away, shaking his head in his hands.
Did the Jets’ 26-22 loss to the Titans hurt more than most after they took an early 16-0 lead that featured an interception return for a touchdown by Johnson?
“We beat ourselves,” the cornerback said after taking longer than most to shower and dress. “I hate losing. I hate losing. I hate losing. You look back at this game, we dominated most of the game and we came up short.”
Johnson’s up-and-down game reflected an up-and-down season since he signed as a free agent from the Rams for five years and $72.5 million — with $34 million coming in the first two years — making him a key piece of a secondary the team was relying on as a defensive foundation.
That 31-yard pick-6 — the fourth of his career — in the first quarter ended an NFL record-tying five-game stretch without a takeaway for the Jets and gave them a 10-0 lead.
“It’s always good to create a turnover and then score on defense,” he said glumly when asked about the big play.
But as the defense crumbled late in the game, Johnson made a key mistake, getting called for a facemask penalty that moved the Titans from their 46-yard line to the Jets’ 39. Four plays later, the lead was gone for good.
“Regardless of what we did the first, second, third, fourth quarter, when it’s crunch time, two minutes left, you can’t do that,” he said. “I put that on me.”
Asked about the penalty, he said simply, “It’s a facemask, a penalty.”
How does that happen? “You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to know what’s going on. I pride myself on situational football and we didn’t follow through with that the last two, three minutes.”
The interception was Johnson’s first since the opener in Detroit. He missed five midseason games with an injury and has not made many of the big plays expected of him, especially with that contract.
Did the interception return provide a confidence boost? “My confidence has been there, never wavered for the most part,” he said. “I’m trying to help this team win.”
Johnson, 28, is not going anywhere, so the team will look to him as part of the solution next season. He was on some bad Rams teams before new coach Sean McVay turned things around in 2017.
He would not comment on whether the Jets could get a jump-start by changing coaches, but he did say learning to win takes time. “It’s definitely a process,” he said, “but if you go back and look at that game, the game should have been won by us. We beat ourselves. A lot of games we beat ourselves.”
Johnson said the Jets already have the players in place to turn it around. “We’re good now,” he said. “I really believe that. I believe we’re good now.”
But not good enough to close out a game against a mediocre opponent with a struggling offense.
He said the defense was “flat” down the stretch.
“[The coaches] have done everything in their power to put us in the right situation; we preach it,” he said. “Put that [loss] on myself. I can take it.”