Judgements VI: Move over, Russell; Derrick Henry just joined the MVP hunt
Add another candidate to this season's MVP list, and, no, it’s not a quarterback. It’s a running back.
The Tennessee Titans are one of three unbeaten teams in the NFL. They’re 10-1 in their last 11 regular-season starts. And they’re a legit threat to reach Super Bowl LV. The reason?
Yeah, I know, Ryan Tannehill has resurrected his career with the Titans, and wide receiver A.J. Brown is one of the league’s best-kept secrets. But let’s be honest: It all begins and ends with Henry … and Sunday it ended with him scoring the game-winning TD in overtime.
But that’s also the beginning, folks. He put up a career-high 264 yards on 24 touches, including 212 yards rushing, and scored twice – once on a 94-yard blast up the middle where he ran through … and away from … the entire Houston defense and was clocked at 21.6 mph.
“He put us on his back and carried us,” said coach Mike Vrabel.
So what’s new? Since 2018, Henry’s had three 200-yard rushing games … or as many as the rest of the NFL. Furthermore, in 10 of his last 14 starts, including the playoffs, he’s run for 100 yards, twice rushed for 200, averaged 137.8 yards rushing per start and scored 18 times.
In those games, the Titans are 12-2.
That sounds like an MVP candidate to me. Quarterbacks historically have dominated the award, with 17 of the past 20 winners from that position – including the past seven -- but it's time we heard from someone else.
I think we just did.
So who was the last non-quarterback to win it? Try running back Adrian Peterson, then with Minnesota, in 2012 ... and he had to rush for over 2,000 yards to get there. At Henry’s current pace, he’d wind up with 1,882 yards over a 16-game schedule.
“Just happy to be on this team,” he said after Sunday’s 42-36 victory.” All my teammates are doing an incredible job, and (my) hat’s off to them. Ain’t nothing about me.”
I disagree. It’s a lot about him.
Look, I know Russell Wilson is the MVP front-runner through the first six weeks, with Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes among the competition. But what about Derrick Henry is there not to like? Someone? Anyone? I can think of nothing.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Tampa Bay is a Super Bowl threat. With Tom Brady at quarterback, you knew the Bucs would be there. But they officially arrived with Sunday’s demolition of previously unbeaten Green Bay, scoring 38 unanswered points on an opponent considered the NFC team to beat. The good news for Tampa Bay: Brady looks like Tom Terrific again ... Gronk is back ... and the Bucs’ defense just flexed its muscle, harassing and hammering Aaron Rodgers into atypical mistakes, including his first two interceptions of the season. Now the bad news: Super Bowl LV is played in Tampa, right? So what do we know about the previous 54? Uh-huh, the game was never played in the stadium of the host team. Can Brady break the trend? I learned long ago never to underestimate him.
2. That was a significant … and costly … victory for Pittsburgh. By beating Cleveland, the Steelers moved to 5-0 for the first time since 1978 when they were 14-2 and won Super Bowl XIII. That’s meaningful. So is this: The Steelers’ defense is back, sacking Baker Mayfield four times, intercepting him twice and driving him from the game. But this may be the most meaningful item to emerge from Sunday’s beatdown: The win came at a cost. The Steelers lost linebacker Devin Bush to what coach Mike Tomlin called “a significant knee injury,” which almost certainly means ligament damage and the end to his season. That’s a loss that will be tough to overcome, and we don’t have long to weigh its impact. The Steelers play unbeaten Tennessee next weekend.
3. The Browns aren’t in a class with Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Not yet. They were drilled by the Ravens in the season opener. They were drilled by the Steelers Sunday. In between, they won four straight and made us want to believe. OK, I believe. I believe they’re a year away from pushing for the division title. Maybe they have to wait for Ben Roethlisberger to retire. All I know is that he’s 24-2-1 vs. them, and the Browns haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 2003. Take that exacta to the window and try to cash it.
4. There is one place the Jets are No. 1. As the only winless team, they’re now first in line for quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Prior to Sunday, they were third behind the Giants and Falcons. Not anymore. Look at the Jets’ schedule … then look at the Jets … and tell me where they win a game. I can’t find one. Memo to Jets' CEO Christopher Johnson: Please … PUH-LEEZE … pull the plug on Adam Gase. NOW.
5. Don't go to sleep on Chicago. The Bears are 5-1 and a half-game ahead ... yes, ahead ... of Green Bay in the NFC North. More important, they just beat Tampa Bay and Carolina in succession – ending three-game winning streaks for each. I know, Green Bay is still the team to beat in the NFC North, and Nick Foles is no Aaron Rodgers. But he’s no Tom Brady, either, and look what happened when they met. Plus, the Bears’ defense has the edge, and I offer Sunday’s results as evidence.
THIRD AND 20
1. The biggest loss in Minneapolis Sunday wasn’t on the football field. It was in the press box. Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist … and legend … Sid Hartman passed away at 100. He’d been working up until his death, with the Star-Tribune saying he produced 21,335 bylined stories in his career – including one Sunday morning. Astounding. Those who knew him will never forget him.
2. New England is 2-3. Tom Brady is 4-2. Just sayin’.
3. Stick a fork in Minnesota. At 1-5, the Vikings are off to their worst start in Mike Zimmer’s career. Not enough defense and too many Kirk Cousins’ turnovers. His 10 interceptions lead the NFL and are four more than he had all of last year.
4. Proof that the Apocalypse is here: At 3-3. Miami is in second in the AFC East, a half-game up on third-place New England.
5. I guess Rob Gronkowski is more than “a blocking tight end” after all.
6. How appropriate that the Giants’ win their first game on a touchdown by “Mr. Irrelevant,” the last guy chosen in the 2020 draft.
7. Green Bay’s Jamaal Williams was right when he said, “I’m pretty sure my quarterback knows what fourth down is.” Aaron Rodgers should. He had plenty of them Sunday.
8. Congratulations to the Houston Texans. With those 601 yards Tennessee put on them, they were just granted admission to the Big 12.
9. I’m with reader Rich Quodomine: Let’s take the Jets off network TV and move them where they belong: Comedy Central.
10. Attention, Rex Ryan and ESPN: Reports of Philip Rivers’ demise are, uh, premature.
11. Say what you want about Carson Wentz but never question his toughness. The guy is treated like a piñata every Sunday behind a makeshift offensive line. Yet somehow he makes enough plays to keep the Eagles in games.
12. The more I watch the Giants’ Daniel Jones, the more I wonder if he’s going to make it. Too many horrid mistakes in critical situations.
13. At 73, interim coach Romeo Crennel should know better. When you’re up by seven with under two minutes to play and have a chance to push the lead to eight … KICK THE EXTRA POINT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. Crennel didn’t, gambling on a two-point conversion, and he lost. Tough weekend for Houston. First the Astros. Now this.
14. So much for the quarterback controversy in San Francisco. It's not a stretch to say Jimmy Garoppolo just saved the 49ers' season. Now let's see how he deals with what's next: A brutal schedule that features five 2019 playoff teams among the 49ers' next six opponents.
15. Ten more victories and Falcons’ interim coach Raheem Morris might be considered for the full-time job.
16. Denver is Cam Newton’s Kryptonite. He’s supposed to be Superman, right? Not vs. the Broncos, he’s not. He’s never beaten them, losing all four starts, including Super Bowl 50. So he’s not Superman. He’s not Tom Brady, either.
17. Maybe the problem with Ryan Tannehill in Miami wasn’t Ryan Tannehill. Maybe it was his head coach: Adam Gase.
18. The more you see the L.A. Rams, the more the NFC West is beginning to look like a game of solitaire ... with Seattle doing the dealing. The Rams are 4-0 vs. the NFC East; 0-2 outside the division.
19. Proof that it’s never been easier to play quarterback. Joe Flacco entered Sunday’s game with 40,337 career yards passing, 21 best in NFL history. That’s 98 more yards than John Unitas, ranked 22, and 214 shy of Joe Montana, ranked 20. Oh, and this just in: Flacco and the Jets were just blanked … by Miami. The last time the Dolphins had a shutout was Nov.2, 2014 vs. the Chargers.
20. No TD passes, two interceptions, four sacks and a 35.4 passer rating? Aaron Rodgers better hope State Farm has a Rodgers Rate.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Daniel Jones’ 49 yard run was more rushing yards than Eli Manning had in 11 of his 16 seasons.
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
Adam Gase is 30-40 as a head coach, with 31 of his 40 losses by double digits.
AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US
New England's loss was Bill Belichick's first as the Patriots' head coach when not allowing a touchdown. He was 39-0, including the playoffs.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTES
“Everybody needs to shut up and play.” – N.Y. Jets coach Adam Gase.
"You can never really get comfortable in this league. As soon as you get comfortable you get your butt whipped." -- Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur.
“We need more time together. We need to practice together. We certainly need it.” – New England coach Bill Belichick on the Patriots at 2-3.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET RECIPIENT
Tennessee RB Derrick Henry. No need to recite the obvious. Please see above.