Titans star Derrick Henry good to go after early exit in loss to Colts

AP photo by John Amis / Derrick Henry (22) runs away from the Indianapolis Colts' Jaylon Jones to score a touchdown for the Tennessee Titans last Sunday in Nashville.
AP photo by John Amis / Derrick Henry (22) runs away from the Indianapolis Colts' Jaylon Jones to score a touchdown for the Tennessee Titans last Sunday in Nashville.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry almost never leaves the playing field because of an injury.

So when the two-time NFL rushing champion headed to the locker room last weekend at Nissan Stadium, it's understandable if there was a moment of panic for any Titans fans who flashed back to Oct. 31, 2021, when Henry broke his right foot and missed the remainder of the regular season.

That moment was extended when Henry didn't return during Sunday's AFC South Division game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Henry was on his way to his best game of the year, having racked up 102 rushing yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns when he picked up 9 yards with 11:34 left in the fourth quarter. He was pulled from the game after a helmet-to-helmet hit, which Henry admitted Thursday rung his bell "a little bit."

And then the Titans lost in overtime, 31-28. (Henry's broken foot game also came against the Colts, though in Indianapolis, and it was Tennessee that won in overtime that day, 34-31.)

Nobody was more frustrated than Henry, even as he respects the move being made for his own protection. He said he felt able to shake it off so he could return and help the Titans win.

"I think the league is trying to be cautious on head injuries and guys who stumble, which I respect," said Henry, whose 841 rushing yards this season trail only the San Francisco 49ers' Christian McCaffrey (1,032). "It's all about player safety, and those things are serious. ... So I respect that. I won't argue it. It is what it is."

Without Henry, the Titans (4-8) missed a chance at what would have been their first back-to-back wins this season. Instead, they took their first home loss of the season.

Now an eighth-year pro, the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry has 18 career games with at least 100 yards and two touchdowns, tying Walter Payton for the fifth-most such games in NFL history. Only Jim Brown (25), LaDainian Tomlinson (25), Emmitt Smith (21) and Shaun Alexander (19) have had more. Among active players, Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns is closest to Henry with eight such games.

Since becoming Tennessee's No. 1 running back as a third-year pro, Henry has missed 11 starts, including two when he was held out as a precaution.

Although limited in practice Thursday for rest purposes, Henry made clear that he feels good. He will run again in his home state of Florida when the Titans visit the Miami Dolphins (9-3) on Monday night, and a healthy Henry is looking forward to another game, even if Tennessee's record at this point isn't what anyone on the team wanted.

"You obviously want to win, but it's still about having fun and enjoying this game and enjoying this time," Henry said, "because we're blessed for the opportunity."

Henry has been enjoying himself as the NFL's most productive runner since breaking out with 238 rushing yards on Dec. 6, 2018, against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That game featured his 99-yard run that tied the NFL record for the longest rushing touchdown, first set by the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Dorsett on Jan. 3, 1983.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel said it's crazy to think that was five years ago with how well Henry, who will turn 30 on Jan. 4, continues running.

"It felt like the play lasted five years," Vrabel said of the run where Henry stiff-armed three defenders. "So tremendous individual effort. Great job by everybody to get involved early to get him going. And then what he did after that was on his own. Time flies."

Since that game, Henry has rushed for 7,468 yards and 71 touchdowns. That's the best in the league in that span by a wide margin, with Chubb trailing Henry by 1,651 yards and the Las Vegas Raiders' Josh Jacobs trailing Henry by 25 touchdowns.

That 2018 season began a run of three in a row for Henry with at least 1,000 yards, and he even had 937 in 2021 despite playing just half the schedule. The 2019 season brought his first rushing title, and in 2020 he ran for 2,027 yards, becoming just the eighth player in NFL history to rush for at least 2,000 in a season.

Last season, he had 1,538 yards on 349 rushes, his third time in four years leading the league in carries.

A second-round draft pick in 2016 after winning the Heisman Trophy at Alabama the previous year, Henry said he is grateful to enjoy both longevity and the type of success he hoped for as a child.

"Thankful for this whole journey," Henry said, "and just want to keep it going and be able to play as long as I can."