NASHVILLE – The source was unlikely. The impact was undeniable.
Tackle Dennis Kelly started a third-quarter onslaught with a 1-yard touchdown reception fewer than two minutes into the second half. It was the first catch and first score of his eight-year NFL career. More importantly it was the first of a stretch of three touchdowns on three plays from the offense, which carried the Tennessee Titans to a 42- 20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Derrick Henry followed Kelly’s catch with touchdown runs of 74 and seven yards, respectively, as a four-point halftime (7-3) lead grew to a 25-point advantage (28-3) in a span of 2:51. A three-and-out by the defense led to Henry’s first touchdown run and a forced fumble and recovery by special teams captain Daren Bates on the ensuing kickoff set up the second. The resultant 16-second gap between the scores made him the first NFL player since Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson (in 2006) with two touchdowns in fewer than 20 seconds.
Even Kelly’s touchdown reception capped a 64-yard drive that lasted just four plays.
“It seemed like everything was working,” tackle Jack Conklin said. “When you have Derrick running and you get him loose, you know good things are going to happen.”
Henry finished with 159 rushing yards on 19 carries, which included 126 yards (and the two touchdowns) on just eight carries in the third quarter. Only four times in his career has the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner rushed for more than 126 yards in a game. His 74-yard run included a series of stiff-arms as he tried to stay inbounds and was reminiscent of his record-tying 99-yard run the last time the Jaguars came to town, when he racked up a career-high 238 yards.
Throughout the final 15 minutes fans routinely chanted “Henry! Henry!” prior to every offensive snap.
The fun did not stop with him, though. Nearly six minutes after his second touchdown, rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown scored on a 65-yard catch-and-run that made it 35-3. That was the longest gain by a Titans wide receiver thus far in 2019 and the third-longest by the offense all season. Only Henry, with his 75-yard reception in Week 1 against Cleveland and his run fewer than four minutes earlier has delivered bigger plays.
The 28 points in the quarter were the most for the franchise since 1991, when they were still the Houston Oilers and scored 28 in the third quarter against Denver. They also were more points than this team had in eight of its first 10 games prior to the bye.
“That’s complementary football,” Henry said. “They give us the ball back we have to put points on the board. That’s what we pride ourselves on is complementary football – offense, defense and special teams. So, you know, whenever our defense can give us the ball back, we’re going to go out and score.”
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill accounted for the rest of the scoring with touchdown runs of 21 yards in the second quarter and three yards in the fourth. The first gave the Titans a lead they never relinquished. The second pushed the lead back to 25 points (42-17) after the Jaguars scored their only touchdowns on consecutive second-half possessions (a Henry fumble on the opening play of the fourth quarter led to the second) and threatened to make a game of it.
Jacksonville (4-7), though, could not produce the kind of quick strikes Tennessee did. Those two touchdown drives lasted 12 plays (4:34) and seven plays (2:57), respectively. They also settled for two field goals to cap possessions that lasted more than four minutes each. Running back Leonard Fournette produced 159 yards of total offense (97 rushing, 62 receiving) and both touchdowns but did not get the kind of help from his supporting cast Henry did.
“We did let it get away from us,” Jaguars wide receiver Chris Conley said. “Coming out in the second half, they jumped up.”
At 6-5, with four wins in their last five, the Titans also put themselves firmly in the AFC playoff race. They are tied with three others (Pittsburgh, Oakland and Indianapolis) for sixth place in the conference standings. Based on tiebreakers, they are currently the last of those four teams but in the next two weeks they play at Indianapolis and at Oakland.
“We’re still in the race,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “We’re running and we’re running and we picked off one person in the race [Jacksonville]. Now we have to go catch five more.”
And if they proved anything Sunday, it is that things can change quickly.