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Henry Doesn't Find Much Room to Run in Return

The Tennessee Titans running back rarely gained much ground before contact in the NFL divisional playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

NASHVILLE – Derrick Henry was not limited in his return to the Tennessee Titans.

There was no so-called pitch count. There was no plan to have him alternate possessions with D’Onta Foreman. He was not confined to certain personnel packages or down-and-distance scenarios.

Whatever coaches needed him to do, he was available.

“Yeah, I felt good,” Henry said. “I was ready to do whatever. I mean, I felt like myself.”

Except when they needed him to get a yard at a critical juncture of Saturday’s divisional playoff against the Cincinnati Bengals, he didn’t do what he usually did. Cincinnati’s defense stopped Henry for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the Bengals’ 35 with 7:21 to play. At the time, the score was tied, and it turned out that was as close as the Titans got to scoring the decisive points in a game that they ultimately lost 19-16 on a last-second field goal.

What part – if any – Henry’s surgically repaired foot played in that moment is difficult to discern.

The play was not well-blocked, but Henry also hesitated when he got the handoff rather than just lower his shoulder and try to force his way past the marker. He was hit in the backfield and failed to gain any ground after contact.

“Yeah, by far disappointed to just come up short at anything,” Henry said. “It will definitely play in the back of my mind all year, every day till we play again.”

There were 11 times in the eight games he played prior to the surgery that the Titans handed the ball to Henry on third or fourth down needing one yard for a first down or a touchdown (source: TruMedia). He converted 10 of those, with the one exception coming against Kansas City in Week 7.

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Yet the fourth-down failure was indicative of how things went for the two-time rushing champion against the Bengals. According to TruMedia, Henry averaged just 0.3 yards before contact against the Bengals. In the regular-season games he played, that figure was 0.95.

“There were probably some runs he would like to have back and a lot of blocking that could be better, but we did get into a flow of running the football and then they loaded up, and they did a good job,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “[Cincinnati had] some guys that were in there grinding away on the run, and we know how hard it is to run against some of those D-linemen they have.”

Overall, Henry was on the field for 30 of the Titans’ 53 snaps on offense against Cincinnati, and he carried 20 times for 62 yards, 56 of which came after contact. His longest run gained nine yards, and his 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter got Tennessee on the scoreboard.

He actually finished as the Titans’ second-leading rusher. Foreman, serving as his backup, ran for a game-high 66 yards on four carries. His 45-yard run in the third quarter was the Titans’ longest play of the day but was negated by the second of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s three interceptions one play later.

“(Henry) came in and had some good hard runs,” Tannehill said. “He was able to get downhill a little bit and run physical. I thought he did a good job just from my perspective. It is tough to really say, but it is good to have him back out there obviously. I love having him on the field with us.”

Henry’s pending return was the dominant story line for the Titans over the final week of the regular season, through wild card weekend – when they had a bye – and in the days leading up to the matchup with Cincinnati.

He got a huge ovation from the sellout crowd at Nissan Stadium when he was introduced along with the other starters on offense prior to the game. Fans chanted “Henry! Henry! Henry!” at times during the game, and he once again was a centerpiece of the offense. Even the Titans’ first offensive call – a play-action pass that was intercepted – was designed to take advantage of all the attention paid to his comeback.

“I am appreciative of every journey every year and definitely a tough year, definitely different for me, and was happy to just to be able to have the chance to get back and come up and contribute,” Henry said. “I missed being with the team. You know, I missed playing ball.

“For me to have the opportunity to get back, just thankful for our surgeon, thankful for our whole training staff, thankful for the people I work with outside the facility to help me get back. God is good and it just truly a blessing to have this opportunity.”

No doubt, he’d like another opportunity at that fourth down, though.