By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 6, 2018)
No intro to this piece. Derrick Henry IS the intro to this piece.
It’s only happened one other time in NFL history, and that was by a guy named Dorsett for the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football nearly 35 years ago. Derrick Henry had been trending in the direction of a highlight-reel type of power/speed combination run for the past handful of games, and on Thursday, he decided to victimize a team he’s played well against in the past, the Jaguars.
En route to the end zone from his own one yard line, Henry trucked multiple Jacksonville defenders, stiff arming AJ Bouye, among others, and in effect playing the role of soul taker. This was, objectively, one of the most impressive singular efforts you will ever see from a running back. He legitimately battled white jerseys all the way down the left sideline, repeatedly telling Doug Marrone’s squad something Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi would have appreciated.
Not only was the run itself special, it came after the Jaguars failed on fourth and goal from the one yard line with their own power back, Leonard Fournette, coming up short due to a solid play from Rashaan Evans. LSU just can’t catch a break against Alabama.
This felt, who knows if it will be, but this FELT like a career-defining, perhaps career-making play for Henry, who has been much maligned this season. He’s showing a propensity to run with purpose now, and it’s paying off, never more so than with this effort, the best of its kind since Marshawn Lynch against the Saints in the Playoffs several years ago.
But that was just the beginning, as he would add three other rushing TDs in the game, including another power run where Jalen Ramsey retreated away from him, rather than attempting the tackle. Oh, and then a 54-yarder for good measure for his fourth score.
There are dudes who have whole rushing careers that don’t have SEASONS with that kind of number. The crowd was chanting for him as he broke Chris Johnson’s franchise record for most yards in a game. 219 yards, 4 TDs. Only nine times in NFL history has a back gone over 200 with 4 TDs, and none have done it in less than 22 carries.
The two-toned blue’s 22… did it in 11. He would finish with 17 carries for 238 yards and the four TDs. He had a few cracks at an NFL record tying fifth, but couldn’t quite punch it in in the fourth quarter. In totality, it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in person covering or watching sports.
The first half was largely a virtuoso performance for Dean Pees and his group, who dialed up pressure when necessary, stifled Leonard Fournette, and made life difficult for Doug Marrone’s offense. After 30 minutes of game action, the unit had surrendered no points, with the safety being the only blemish…and that was a special teams blunder. More on that later.
Sunday against the Jets, as the Titans offense sputtered and stumbled, the defense managed to hold steady, stabilize the team, and give Marcus a chance to win it late. Zero touchdowns, just field goals for New York, and early against Jacksonville, absolutely nada for Cody Kessler and his crew. The touchdown the Jags did get was on a botched review by the referees, where it certainly appeared that Dede Westbrook was out of bounds on the catch.
Guys are making plays all over the field, including another solid night for rookie Rashaan Evans, who has had a great pair of performances over the past five days. We’re seeing moxie and awareness leading to results for Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo, and the usual stellar work from Jurrell Casey, Kevin Byard, and Jayon Brown.
True, no one will confuse either the Jags or the Jets with the Chiefs and the Rams, but you play who’s in front of you, and the Titans defense has taken advantage of these offenses in a way that positions them as a confident group for the stretch run.
KEYSTONE SPECIAL KOPS
What is happening to the Titans on special teams? It’s been an abject, unmitigated disaster of a week, with the Jets succeeding with both a blocked punt and blocked field goal, not to mention the Titans surrendering a 61-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter. Adoree Jackson chose…poorly…to fair catch a fourth quarter punt on Sunday with at least ten yards of cushion in front of him and was vigorously booed by the Nissan Stadium crowd. His judgment has flat out stunk.
Thursday wasn’t much better, as Cameron Batson, who returned punts in the preseason, inexplicably chose to field a punt while moving backwards inside the five, compounding that mistake by muffing it, picking it up in the end zone, and being swallowed up by the Jags for a safety. This was as bad as the Derrick Henry scamper was good, and Ryan Succop missed an extra point after 22’s score to boot (no pun intended).
You know how you lose playoff games, or for that matter playoff berths? You blow it on special teams and don’t protect the football on offense. The defense can only do so much. You’ve lucked out if you’re the Titans playing against the hapless Jets and the Jags, who have absolutely quit on the season. Hopefully it’s out of their system, but the return game continues to be a potential trouble spot of epic proportions.
It wasn’t a great night for Marcus, but mainly only because of a bad deep underthrow to Taywan Taylor, who had a step on Jalen Ramsey, and a rough interception that killed an early drive. He was fine. And, on this night, he didn’t need to do much but get the ball in the hands of Derrick Henry.
Against the Jets, Mariota wasn’t good for three quarters, nor was he good against Houston for the most part, and certainly before he went down against Indy, he struggled. The comeback to beat New York with the tempo drive revived him a bit, and he finished 18/24 for 162 and the pick. Corey Davis dropped a touchdown in the fourth quarter as well, which would have helped his stats. Again, he wasn’t bad, he was just average on this night, which belonged to his tailback.
The questions will continue. He’ll have to be good in the next three games to get the Titans into the playoffs.
It was far better against Jacksonville than it was against the Jets. Sunday was ugly, but Thursday was improved as Marcus only took one sack. Taylor Lewan still talks and instigates far too much for my taste. He’s a good football player, but his act has worn thin. He was right in what he believed about Jerome Boger’s officiating crew four days ago, and in that case, I got it. But, offensive lineman should actually be like referees. We should forget they’re out there, because they’re effective doing their jobs.
We should notice the offensive linemen because of the stat lines of the people they’re protecting, and on Thursday, we saw Derrick Henry’s numbers and the final score. That said, Henry did much of the heavy lifting himself, but it was still a much stronger effort from the OL as a whole, despite Jack Conklin still looking pedestrian at best, before leaving due to a knee injury.
It’s still shaky and the personnel groupings have struggled to find any level of consistency whatsoever. They must be good in the final three games or trouble will be the result.
DERRICK HENRY. THAT IS ALL.
Twenty freaking two. Yeah, he gets two mentions. Two takeaways. He could have gotten all six. Good gracious what a game.
THE LAST WORD
Nothing more needs to be said. The Titans are 7-6, with @Giants, Redskins, and Colts remaining. 9-6 SHOULD happen, and then comes Andrew Luck, potentially in a game with Wildcard rewards behind it. He’s never lost to Tennessee, so we’ll see. First, however, they’ve got to actually take care of business against the NFC East. Anything less than running the table likely means, with tiebreakers, no shot at the postseason.
The Titans again have a shot to make the playoffs, but it’s not exactly in their hands. What they can control is finishing 10-6. The bad losses to Buffalo, Miami, and a near-miss against Los Angeles are the ones looming large, along with the shutout to Baltimore, a team back on the winning track, but one with a rough schedule to finish up.
The Titans have not done well this year handling success, whether they’ve talked or stayed quiet. Thus, the trip to New York will tell us whether it’s still consistent inconsistency or if something has changed.