As if Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry wasn’t already viewed as one of the NFL’s best at his position, his status as one of the league’s best clutch players got enhanced in a big way in Week 11.
Henry was the Titans’ decisive factor in a 30-24 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore that ensured coach Mike Vrabel’s team would remain tied atop the AFC South after the Indianapolis Colts got an overtime win of their own, 34-31 at home over the Green Bay Packers to keep pace.
As the Titans needed just a field goal to see off the challenge of Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, a series of running plays through Henry and short passes from quarterback Ryan Tannehill appeared to give the Titans the proximity and scrimmage position that they needed to set kicker Steven Gostkowski for the game-winning points.
But then, Henry busted loose.
With five-and-a-half minutes to go in the extra session, and with the ball on the Ravens’ 29-yard line, Henry took a handoff from Tannehill, went left – then suddenly made a jump-cut to his right into open space.
With the Ravens’ defence already over-committed, Henry with his quickness had nothing but the Maryland fresh late-afternoon, late-autumn air in his midst and easily scored a touchdown to win the game.
It was the second time this season in which Henry – who had finished the game with 133 yards on 28 rushes and that one touchdown – had produced a decisive extra-time score, also rushing for a game-winning touchdown against the Houston Texans in a 42-36 Titans win in Week 6.
“I had told Derrick going into overtime we needed a 99-yard [run],” teammate A.J. Brown – himself a great contributor in the win, with four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown – said after the game, with a grin as cheeky as that comment.
But Brown knew, deep down, that Henry was that powder keg inevitably due to explode.
“We knew it was coming. He just needed an opportunity. Like I told him, ‘Go win the game right now, already’,” said Brown.
“I told him actually, ‘You’re taking too long’,” he added.
“I try to do anything I can with the ball in my hands,” Henry himself said afterwards, as his efforts were central to the Titans upending an 11-point third-quarter deficit to force overtime and set the stage for Henry’s heroics.
But ever the team player, Henry was quick to share the praise – seemingly as quick as his game-winning touchdown run itself.
“I was able to get in the end zone… The guys did a great job blocking, and it wouldn’t have happened without the o-line, and receivers, tight ends, everyone blocking.
“I just had to go out there and do my job to help my team win, and I’m glad we got a ‘W’ today against a great team,” added Henry.
Henry also achieved a couple of milestones in the Titans’ win – 50 combined touchdowns for his career, rushing and receiving, and topping the 1000-yard rushing barrier for the third season running.
The fifth-year tailback has also proven to possess a proficiency for producing big moments, as well as being prolific and consistent, after a stellar college career at Alabama under Nick Saban that saw Henry sweep all of the major college football awards, including the Heisman Trophy, following the 2015 season.
Moreso, his college and pro statistics to date notwithstanding, it boggles the mind to think how a player of his talent, strength, speed, elusiveness, a lethal stiff-arming penchant, could fall to the second round of the 2016 draft, slipping to the 45th overall pick.
On the heels of a 2019 season that saw him amass 1540 yards on the ground and another 206 receiving, and showing every indication that he can surpass those totals in what’s left in the 2020 campaign, the people around him feel that the sky remains the limit for Henry.
“Everybody understands his work ethic, the way he finishes runs,” Vrabel said back in August, ahead of the Titans’ season launch in training camp.
And it was a sentiment repeated when Henry’s touchdown run in overtime beat Houston earlier this season.
“I mean, just obviously we all witnessed somebody taking a game over when we had it,” Vrabel said.
And Tannehill, who hands the ball off to Henry, does so with the utmost confidence in his abilities.
“He just has that rare size, strength, and speed combination,” said Tannehill after that win over the Texans.
“I just like to watch him run the ball, you know? I'm a big fan of his,” new Titans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney says.
And watching Henry play, and play with such joy, there’s a lot to like – and on a team with talent at every position, the Titans’ success will go as far as Henry can run, and run and run.
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