NASHVILLE – Halfway through Sunday’s game at Seattle’s Lumen Field, Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry was going nowhere fast.
He’d smashed 13 times into the Seahawks’ line and totaled just 35 yards, fewer than three yards per carry and not one gain of more than eight yards.
It looked, unfortunately for the Titans, like a repeat of Week 1, when Henry had found precious little room to maneuver against Arizona, finishing with 17 carries for 58 yards in that losing contest.
So surely, it seemed, the Titans would dial back Henry and the running game in the second half, especially since Tennessee trailed 24-9 heading into the third quarter. It was catch-up time, time to start throwing the football on a more frequent basis. Right?
The Titans patiently opened the second half just as they’d started the game, stuffing the ball in Henry’s belly on the first two plays – and this time picking up 14 yards. Moments later, the Titans had completed an eight-play scoring drive, one that had included five Henry runs for 25 yards – and the touchdown.
“I think there’s a fine line (of sticking with the run game), just based on where the game is going,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “We felt like we did have time and that we were doing some really positive things. It was still keeping us efficient and keeping us out of third-and-long, helping us gain first downs. So, I think it’s just a feel, how the game is going and what the situation is.”
Fast forward to early in the fourth quarter, when the Titans – again – trailed by two scores, this time 30-16 – with just over 13 minutes to go. At that point, Henry’s numbers were respectable – 22 carries for 75 yards – but still nothing special for him.
What kind of team would still be willing to pound the rock in those circumstances? The Titans, of course.
That’s just what they did on the second play of the drive, when Henry took a hand-off at the 40-yard line, broke to the left sideline, stiff-armed safety Quandre Diggs and flew into the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown run, cutting Seattle’s lead to 30-23 with plenty of time still remaining.
The composure of the Titans and offensive coordinator Todd Downing had been rewarded once again.
“There’s just a sense that as long as you’re in the game, and you continue to be positive with (the running game) … Maybe there was one missed block or a missed cut, things that are close,” Vrabel said. “When it’s close, you kind of want to stick with it.”
Henry’s impact was far from over at that point. He carried 12 more times for 47 yards in the remainder of the fourth quarter and overtime. Included in Henry’s totals: the game-tying touchdown 1-yard run, along with four straight carries that set up Randy Bullock for the game-winning 36-yard field goal in overtime.
By the time Bullock’s kick sailed through the uprights, Henry had run it a career-high 35 times, gaining 182 yards and scoring three touchdowns. A whopping 22 of those carries, as well as 147 of his yards and all three of his touchdowns came after halftime – when the Titans trailed by 15 points.
“It was great that we could answer (with the run game),” Vrabel said. “And when you hit some big ones like we did, it certainly allows you to stay in that mode. So, we kept it close enough. We kept answering.”
Patiently answering, that is.