Derrick Henry would have been happy to have had even one carry against the New Orleans Saints.
Sunday, he could have had one more. But he did not need it.
With just over three minutes remaining against the Houston Texans, coach Mike Vrabel told the Tennessee Titans running back during a timeout that he had two carries to try to get the eight yards he needed to secure his place as the NFL’s leading rusher for 2019. On the next snap, Henry broke free for a 53-yards touchdown run that capped the scoring in Tennessee’s 35-14 playoff-clinching victory.
“He told me, ‘You got two more, and that’s it,’” Henry said. “When he said that, I had to make something happen.”
Henry finished the season with 1,540 rushing yards, 46 more than Cleveland’s Nick Chubb and 153 ahead of Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey. He is the first NFL player since Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 to rush for more than 1,500 yards. He also tied for the league lead with 16 rushing touchdowns, including three in the regular season finale.
And he did it in 15 games.
Coaches and trainers held Henry out a week earlier against the Saints in order to let him rest an ailing hamstring. The idea was to keep him on the sideline for a contest that had little bearing on Tennessee’s chance to reach the playoffs and give him a chance to be at full health in Houston, when it was win-and-in for the Titans.
“I’m a competitor. I love the game of football,” Henry said. “I was kind of down that I couldn’t play [against New Orleans]. I kind of (felt) soft that this damn hamstring just keeps giving me problems. But the training staff and everybody I work with [are] doing a good job to get me back on the field.
“I just thank Coach Vrabel and everybody in the Titans’ organization for giving me the opportunity to rest so I could have the opportunity (Sunday) to help us get in the playoffs.”
In hindsight, it certainly seemed like the right decision.
Henry logged a season-high 32 carries against Houston and rolled up 211 yards, the second-highest total of his career. The opening possession of the second half was a 10-play touchdown drive that included seven Henry runs capped by his three-yard plunge into the end zone.
As the game went, he just got better and better. He carried four times for six yards in the first quarter, nine times for 41 yards in the second, eight times for 54 yards in the third and 11 times for 110 yards in the fourth.
As he closed in on Chubb, who closed the season with just 41 yards on 13 carries, his offensive lineman made sure he knew it. Vrabel too admitted he eventually was made aware of where Henry stood.
“I’m happy for Derrick,” Vrabel said. “I understand what he goes through, as far as the pounding, and what he’s been able to do for us. … I told him, ‘You got two carries.’ He ended up just needing the one.”
With one more rush he would have tied his career-high set last December against the New York Giants.
Given what he’d already accomplished, what’s one carry?
“I was just trying to make something happen when I got the ball,” Henry said. “… Credit to (the offensive line). I thank each and every one of my teammates, my coaches, trainers – everybody [that’s] a part of the Titans organization.
“… I never want to single out individual goals. I credit everyone in the offense [and] the coaches involved for those accomplishments.”