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NASHVILLE – Derrick Henry has been here before. And he has ended up on top.

The difference this time is that he has farther to go to get there.

For the fourth straight season, the Tennessee Titans running back has more than 300 rushing yards through the first four weeks of the season. His current total of 306 is consistent with his numbers at this same point in 2019 (310 yards) and 2020 (319 yards) when he became the first player in more than a decade to win back-to-back NFL rushing titles.

Henry has done it on 76 carries (only four players have more), which averages out to 4.0 yards per rush. Again, that is right in line with 2019 (78 attempts, 4.0 average per carry) and 2020 (82 rushes, 3.9 per carry), although it should be noted that in 2020 the Titans played just three games in the first four weeks because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Traditionally, he has gotten better as the season progresses, both on a per carry and a per game basis. For his career, Henry has averaged 76.1 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry in November and 96.7 yards per game and 5.5 yards per rush in December.

Ahead of Monday’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams, however, Henry was not even among the NFL’s top 10 rushers. He was 11th, seven yards behind Houston rookie Dameon Pierce and 157 shy of first-place Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants.

That, despite the fact that he set season-highs with 22 carries and 114 yards in Sunday’s 24-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

“I thought the coaches had a really good plan for how we were going to try to run the football on these guys that haven't given up a whole lot of yards,” coach Mike Vrabel said following the game. “That looked more like our running game. It wasn't perfect. There were some plays where we'd like to have back.”

Yet it did create a sense that Henry can get back to being the league’s leading rusher. The last to win the title three times was Adrian Peterson, who did so over a span of eight years with no back-to-back crowns (2008, 2012, 2015). The last to finish first three times in four years was Hall of Famer Barry Sanders (1994, 1996, 1997).

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An argument can be made that Henry’s success in recent years has made it more fashionable for teams to lean on the run game in general and a single back, specifically, if they are available. And that has created more competition for the 2020 Offensive Player of the Year as he attempts to regain his crown after an injury-shortened 2021.

Thirteen different players this season have run for more yards in a game than Henry did against the Colts. Some more than once.

“It’s good to have a running game,” Henry said early in the season. “It’s good to see the guys getting yards and making big plays and helping their teams out. Hopefully, that keeps going because we don’t get much love. Hopefully, that stops sometime soon.”

In 2019, Henry was eighth in the league after four games, and it was not until the second half of the season that he really made his move up the leaderboard. He had four straight 100-yard efforts beginning in early November and capped the campaign with 211 yards in the regular-season finale, which were enough to give him the title by 46 yards over Cleveland’s Nick Chubb.

In 2020, Henry was fourth through four weeks. In Week 6, he delivered the first of that season’s three 200-yard efforts (212 in a victory over Houston) and did not have back-to-back games of fewer than 100 yards the rest of the way. The result was 2,027 rushing yards, the fifth-highest total in league history, and a gap of 470 yards between him and the runner-up, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook.

The outlier in all of this, of course, was last season. Then, he had a whopping 510 yards on 113 carries through four games. No one else had more than 362 rushing yards at that same time, but Henry broke down four weeks later when he sustained a season-ending foot injury at Indianapolis.

The subsequent surgery and his struggles when he returned for the postseason (62 yards on 20 carries) created uncertainty about whether he would ever be near the top – never mind at the top – of the rushing leaders again.

“When Derrick's running, everything functions well,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “… He was running hard, running physical, running through arm tackles [Sunday]. I thought he made some really good cuts out there. He did a heck of a job for us.

"Yeah, he's done that and probably will continue to do that.”

Well enough to pass all of those currently ahead of him? History suggests he will make a good run at it.