A day after signing his three-year extension that made him the fifth running back in NFL history to get $30 million guaranteed, Johnson unleashed a series of jump-cuts, leaving Washington defenders in his wake. The combination of power and speed that helped him dominate in 2016 was back. Albeit briefly. By the time the Cardinals punted to end their first possession, he had rushed for 23 yards on four carries and caught another pass for 4 yards.
"I think we saw a small glimpse of what he's capable of doing today -- not only in the running game, but the passing game," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "He's able to break tackles and turn small catches into big plays."
Then Johnson's story turned.
From that point until late in the fourth quarter, Johnson wasn't a factor. He ran for 14 more yards the rest of the game, in large part because the more the Cardinals trailed, the more they had to abandon the run.
As the crowd of 61,613 wanted -- expected -- something from Johnson, the less of a chance it had of happening. And it wasn't his fault.
As soon as the Cardinals went down 7-0 early in the first quarter, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy began transitioning to the pass.
"David's really good," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "He had some great runs in the first half. Unfortunately, we just had to get away from the run. It takes a little bit out of the playbook when we have to get away from it.
"It takes some of the play-action stuff away, but he has showed that he's special when he touches the football."
Johnson didn't blame McCoy's decisions. He praised McCoy's ability to adapt. But the more McCoy tried to play catch-up, the less he used the team's newest multimillionaire.
By the end of Arizona's 24-6 loss to Washington, however, Johnson's contract was far from his mind.
"I am thinking about the loss, what I did wrong, mental errors, dropped catches and how bad I played," he said.
He blamed himself for missing a "couple holes" and not blocking well enough. He blamed himself for the defense playing 17 more minutes than the offense.
"I didn't play my best game," Johnson said.
Johnson didn't need $39 million to set lofty expectations for himself, but now that he signed the rich deal, everyone else will put them on his shoulders. And by the way Arizona's offense played Sunday, putting up 213 total yards while converting one third down in 21 minutes, 52 seconds of possession, it will need Johnson to play up to his new deal. He finished with 67 total yards from scrimmage.
But he'll need help.
Right guard Justin Pugh said the Cardinals "100 percent pressed" when they started to trail. The more they press, the more bad things happen, Pugh added.
"I don't think there's any pressure," Pugh added. "I didn't go out there and play differently today just because I signed a big deal in the offseason. Maybe it's because it happened the day before the game [for Johnson].
"He probably was dealing with some stuff -- a lot of emotions, a lot of people texting you. I think everything will calm down for all of us. The way the game unfolded for us, it was just bad from the get-go. We don't want to be the type of team that's down, throwing the ball like that. Obviously, we need balance, and that's tough. It's something we got to work on, look at the film, break down what happened and correct those things."