NASHVILLE — Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry isn't a big or brash talker. That's why it stood out when he called his performance in the team's regular-season finale "kind of soft."
The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Alabama made up for that with an NFL postseason debut for the record books, but getting the second-year pro to acknowledge any change in his own confidence — or simply being pleased after a big game — is as tough as tackling him in the open field.
"I'm just trying to play better every week," Henry said as the Titans prepared for a divisional playoff at AFC No. 1 seed New England on Saturday night. "I'm going to get another chance to play — it's a great team in a good environment — so just making sure I'm doing all the right things this week."
On Dec. 31, the Titans earned their first postseason berth since 2008 with a 15-10 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Nashville. Henry had a 66-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass, but he averaged just 1.8 yards per carry that day, totaling 51 yards on 28 rushes.
In last Saturday's 22-21 wild-card win at Kansas City, Henry rebounded by setting a franchise playoff record with 191 yards from scrimmage as he helped the Titans rally from an 18-point halftime deficit. He topped the previous mark set by Billy Cannon in January 1961 with the best postseason performance by a running back in at least a decade.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick detailed a list of attributes that explain why containing the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry — who made back-to-back starts with veteran rusher DeMarco Murray sidelined by a knee injury — can prove difficult.
"Henry has got a ton of skill, and he's got power, good vision," Belichick said. "He can certainly run inside and break tackles, he's a tough runner, he can get tough runs. But he's very athletic in the open field. He's fast, he can cut back, he can get to space. He's broken off a lot of long runs, running plays, screens."
That was the case on his touchdown catch-and-run in the regular-season finale. But his first three carries of the game went backward, including a 12-yard loss that came dangerously close to a safety.
"He saw some of the things that he missed by trying to bounce some things," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "He's had a lot of success bouncing some runs, but at some point you've got to hit some of these holes that are there, and they're not big all the time. I think he saw that, and obviously he's a quick, fast learner."
He totaled a career-best 156 rushing yards last Saturday, just shy of Eddie George's franchise-record 162 in a postseason game.
Henry also had 85 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 35-yard touchdown run, for the NFL's third-best rushing performance in the fourth quarter of a playoff game since the 1991 season. Only LeGarrette Blount (114 yards for the Patriots versus the Colts on Jan. 11, 2014) and Derek Loville (97 yards for the Broncos against the Jaguars on Dec. 27, 1997) have been better in that span.
Finishing is what Henry does best. Only the Chiefs' Kareem Hunt had more rushing yards (474) in the fourth quarter during the 2017 regular season than Henry (390), who averaged a league-best 6.09 yards per carry in the final 15 minutes of games.
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Henry is powerful and has the threat of a dangerous stiff-arm.
"If it's a one-on-one tackling situation, it's extremely difficult to get him down in that instance," said Patricia, whose defense ranked next-to-last in the NFL this season by allowing an average of 4.7 yards per carry.
Henry teamed with quarterback Marcus Mariota to pile up a franchise playoff-record 202 rushing yards in Kansas City, and with Murray already ruled out for this weekend, a big workload could be headed Henry's way again.
"It's my job trying to help this team win games," Henry said. "It's always fun when you're playing football."
Titans left guard Quinton Spain (back) practiced fully Thursday after missing the previous two days, while cornerback Logan Ryan (ankle) practiced fully after being limited Wednesday.