NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Derrick Henry’s day appeared done. The Titans were up comfortably, 31-10 early in the fourth quarter, and the team’s star running back had already run for 195 yards on 25 carries. There was no reason to send him back out on the field for another carry. Except Henry wanted more, and his teammates wanted to get him over 200 yards for the game.
So Mike Vrabel sent no. 22 back on the field. Henry bounced a run around right end for 20 yards, then quickly returned to the sideline and replaced his helmet with a facemask. A very 2020 scene for the guy that has made 2020 for the Titans and is making the league MVP race more than just a discussion about quarterbacks.
Say what you want about the brilliance of Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, it’s hard to find anyone in the league that means more to their team’s blueprint of doing things than Henry.
Henry’s 215-yard, two touchdown performance Sunday against his hometown team makes him the first running back in NFL history with four two hundred yard, two TD games. The three backs with three such performances over their careers are Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson. All three are enshrined in Canton.
Henry’s now rushed for 1,532 yards this year, eight yards away from his career-high set last year. He leads Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook by 180 yards in the race to become the NFL’s first repeat rushing champion since Tomlinson did it in 2006-07.
If you need one more “whoa” stat to put Henry’s 2020 season in perspective, consider that he needs to run for 468 yards over the final three games of the regular season to become just the eighth running back, and second Titan joining Chris Johnson in 2009, to rush for 2,000 yards. Can he run for 156 yards per game against the Lions, Packers and Texans? It’s a tall task, but those defenses aren’t exactly juggernauts.
And Henry’s in the middle of one of the most impressive runs in NFL history. Since, Dec. 1, 2018 he’s run for over 3,700 yards and leads the NFL in touchdowns during that time. He gets better as the season goes along, using his physical, 6’3, 248 pound frame to grind on opponents at the most critical time of the season.
In 11 December games since 2018 Henry’s rushed for 1,449 yards or 6.2 yards per carry. Only Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon with 1,003 yards has also topped 1,000 in that span. His 16 touchdowns are seven more than Chris Carson has.
A year ago Henry’s late season surge was good enough to get the Titans to the playoffs and then lead them on a run to their first AFC Championship game appearance since 2002. Henry is carrying the Titans once again this season, and everybody knows it.
He’s the focal point of an offense that’s not without other stars. But everybody is better just because they get to play with Henry. Ryan Tannehill completed an uber-efficient 19-24 passes in Sunday’s win for 212 yards and two touchdowns. He’s now thrown 26 touchdowns against just five interceptions this year, and is on pace to break the Titans’ era single season passing yardage record held by Matt Hasselbeck next week.
A.J. Brown and Corey Davis are a consistent one-two punch at receiver. It was Brown that caught seven passes for 112 yards Sunday for his third 100-yard game of the season. Davis has four, and the Titans have recorded a 100-yard receiver in nine of 13 games, providing the type of balance very few in the NFL can achieve.
That recipe has helped Tennessee pile up 30-plus points and over 400 yards total offense in four consecutive games for the first time in franchise history. Those type of performances have helped them largely overcome a porous defense and an inconsistent special teams unit to clinch a fifth straight winning season.
Those two phases of the game, while still not great, have been better in recent weeks. And that’s the thing. The Titans don’t need their defense or special teams to be great. They just need them to be okay, because the offense is just that good, led by Henry, who is in the middle of one of the most dominant runs in NFL history.
Henry and the Titans will have to keep it going to capture their first AFC South title in a dozen years, as the Colts kept pace Sunday, also improving to 9-4 with an impressive 44-27 win in Las Vegas.
For his part, Henry said Sunday that he’s not interested in the individual milestones in his sights as much as he is winning the final three games of the season. The perfect attitude for a team leader that won the Heisman Trophy and led Alabama to the national championship in 2015, and is carrying the load in a similar way now.
The numbers suggest Henry deserves a good long look as the league’s most valuable player. The Titans go as he goes, and they are going to ride him as far as he can take them.