A few weeks ago, a 2,000-yard season was just a possibility for Derrick Henry. In fact, he was a little behind pace.
But for the Tennessee Titans running back, nothing should come as a surprise. Certainly not another massive performance against a team he has dominated in recent seasons, the Houston Texans.
To become the eighth player in league history to reach 2,000 rushing yards in a single season Sunday, Henry needed 223 yards. And he got every last one of them and then some.
Henry entered one of the most exclusive clubs in football and all of sports, the 2,000-yard club, with a six-yard run on his 28th carry of the contest. It came with 7:46 to play.
Henry finished with 250 yards on 34 carries (both career-highs) as the Titans outlasted the Texans 41-38 to finish first in the AFC South for the first time since 2008. His final total of 2,027 yards is the fifth-highest single-season total in NFL history.
“I am very thankful for those guys [on the offensive line],” Henry said. “I told those guys in the locker room, every single one of them, how thankful I was for them. I wouldn’t want anybody else blocking for me. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Henry makes the Titans the first NFL franchise to have two 2,000-yard rushers. Chris Johnson earned his ‘CJ2K’ nickname when he rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009. Johnson gave his reaction on Twitter, saying “2 2k’s!!!!
The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama becomes the first running back to reach the milestone since Adrian Peterson did it with the Minnesota Vikings in 2012.
“I keep saying it’s a really cool moment, a really cool thing,” right tackle Dennis Kelly said. “That’s something when you’re older, when you’re done playing, you’re able to talk to your kids, that’s something you can look back and be like, ‘I did that.’ Instantly, there’s this bond that we all accomplished this together.
“It’s going to be pretty impossible to forget.”
From the start of Sunday’s contest, the two-time rushing champion had the looks of a man on a mission. Henry had more than 100 yards rushing by halftime, including a 52-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He added a six-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He surpassed 200 rushing yards for the game on the Titans’ second offensive series of the third quarter. At the start of the fourth quarter, he was 18 yards away from 2,000.
Henry said that he knew somebody had been keeping track of his progress toward 2,000 yards throughout the game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had the greatest statistical season of any Titans quarterback, said he didn’t have much of a clue about how close Henry was getting. He is happy to have been a part of it, though.
“I enjoy, like I said, every opportunity I get to go out and play on Sundays or Saturdays,” Tannehill said of the day. “You know, it's something that when you go through what I went through over the past couple years, you appreciate it a little bit more. So, to be able to get into the playoffs for a second time, win the division, it's definitely a moment I'll look back on and really appreciate.”
In the process of gaining the final yards to reach 2,000, Henry had one mistake that clearly did just enough to bother him to the point where he was not all smiles after a massive performance in a memorable victory.
He lost his second fumble of the season late in the third quarter -- a rare mishap from a player who almost never coughs up the football. The Texans scored a touchdown plays to close the Titans’ lead to three, 31-28.
“You know, after rushing 2,000 yards, but I'm serious, right now I'm just pissed off at myself for the mishaps that I had,” he said.
While Henry wouldn’t acknowledge much about his season, it has been historic.
He is the 10th player since 1953 to be the league’s rushing champion in consecutive seasons, and the other nine are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Four of the previous 2,000-yard rushers also have a spot in Canton, Ohio.
In leading the league this season, Henry had seven 100-yard performances and three others with more than 200 yards. He is the first player to have three 200-yard rushing performances in a season since 2016 and fifth overall since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Only a handful of running backs have had one 200-yard rushing game since 2018.
Henry now has five career 200-yard rushing performances, and three of them have come in his last three games against Houston. He is the first player in league history to have that many against a single opponent.
A player who notoriously takes zero credit for his accolades and commends his teammates for just about everything he accomplishes, Henry might as well start writing his Hall of Fame speech.
He will have a lot of people to thank.
“I'm just thankful for my teammates,” he said. “Thankful for all of them, you know, week in and week out, you know, them doing their job. Just the unselfishness that they have for my success, I'm very thankful.”
But for now, reflection is something that will have to wait until this season is actually over.
“Regardless of if I got it, I did it or I didn't,” he said. “I wasn't pressing for it. I just wanted to be able to win the game as a team and make it to the playoffs in the division.”