Derrick Henry couldn’t be stopped Thursday night in the Titans’ 30-9 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He finished the game with a staggering 238 rushing yards and four touchdowns on only 17 carries.
Henry started the day with a 3-yard touchdown on the Titans’ opening possession, and then etched his name in the record books with the NFL’s second ever 99-yard rushing touchdown — bulldozing and humiliating several Jaguars defenders along the way. An already great night turned into an even more historic one in the second half when Henry added 16- and 54-yard touchdowns.
It was one of the best nights ever for a running back:
Derrick Henry today:— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 7, 2018
• Most rush yds (238) in Titans franchise history
• Most rush yds (238) & rush TD (4) in TNF history
• 2nd player in NFL history with 99-yd TD run
• Fewest carries (17) in a game with 200+ rush yards & 4+ rush TD in Super Bowl era#TitanUp @Titans
So with all those accolades under his belt, Henry wasn’t too concerned about getting into the end zone again in the fourth quarter. When Titans coach Mike Vrabel tried to get Henry into the game for an NFL-record fifth rushing touchdown, the running back insisted that Dion Lewis get a chance instead.
“We both gotta eat — I want to see him score a touchdown, I [already] got four,” Henry told FOX’s Erin Andrews after the game. “I just care about my teammates and wanted to see him get a touchdown. ... Records, they come and go.”
Records won’t get the Titans into the playoffs, but Henry’s game helped.
The huge night came at an opportune time. It got the Titans back over .500 for the first time since Week 10, and kept them in the thick of the Wild Card race. And most importantly, it was a glimpse at what the Titans can be when Henry is rolling. The problem is that we haven’t seen him do so with any consistency:
The Titans showed how scary they can be if they run the ball well
Prior to Thursday, Henry hadn’t topped 58 yards in a game in 2018. His longest rush of the season was 16 yards.
His struggles eventually led to Dion Lewis taking over as the starter, but the former Patriots running back hasn’t been effective either. Lewis has managed just 3.3 yards per carry this season and finished Thursday with just 13 yards on 10 carries against the Jaguars.
Despite entering Week 14 at No. 28 in yards per attempt, the Titans were No. 10 in rushing attempts. Their goal is clear: The Titans want to run. They just haven’t been able to. So nothing would jumpstart Tennessee’s lackluster offense more than Henry finally getting his season on track.
“Just looking back at the games we had and how I ran, it was not me,” Henry told NFL Network after the game. “My main focus is being consistent and being efficient in the run game and helping this team win games. Because it hasn’t been that way. I’m going to keep this momentum going. I’ll just keep working, and hopefully the results will show.”
It was just the second time this season the Titans reached 30 points. The only other was a 34-10 win against the Patriots that saw Henry rush for 58 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Until Thursday, that was his best game of the year.
When he gets going, the Titans offense is better across the board.
“This needs to be what our standard is every single game,” Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan told NFL Network. “We’re not going to break franchise records every single game, but having a consistent run game, keeping Marcus [Mariota] healthy, getting the pass game going too.”
An effective rushing attack created a more balanced offense for Mariota, who didn’t have to carry the team on his back. He delivered a mostly efficient performance as a result.
Mariota completed 18 of his 24 passes against the Jaguars for 162 yards. He threw one interception, but was sacked just once on the night, and did enough to allow the Titans to lean on Henry and a stingy defense to win.
Now Henry has to find success vs. teams other than the Jaguars
In six career games against the Jaguars, Henry has 511 rushing yards, 125 receiving yards, six rushing touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown.
He averages 85.2 rushing yards and 20.8 receiving yards against Jacksonville. He averages 37.8 rushing yards and 5.9 receiving yards against every other team.
Thursday was the sixth game of Henry’s career in which he recorded at least 90 all-purpose yards, and his fourth against the Jaguars.
Those stats don’t include his 156-yard day against the Chiefs in the playoffs in January. But do you get the point yet? Henry has consistently destroyed the Jaguars, and mostly been a non-factor against anyone else.
The bad news for the Titans is that there are no more games against Jacksonville on the schedule. The good news is that the Titans finish the season with a road game against the Giants, and home games against Washington and the Colts.
New York is 4-8, while both Washington and Indianapolis are 6-6. Each have been above average at stopping the run, but it’s a winnable slate for the Titans — so long as the team can drop a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act that’s plagued them all season.
“We lost a couple games in these past weeks, so our main focus is just making it about us, playing our game, and getting back to playing Titans football,” Henry told NFL Network. “Our main focus is being consistent. It’s hard to win in this league, so the big thing is being consistent as a team.”
Henry’s not going to replicate his record-breaking night any time soon, but that’s okay. The Titans don’t need him to rush for more than 200 yards and multiple touchdowns on a weekly basis. Just being a player who can average at least 4 yards per carry, and occasionally rip off a big play, would be enough to make the Titans more consistent — and finally a contender worth believing in too.