NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans have made it quite clear they are very willing to mash their way through the NFL playoffs with the league's top rusher leading the charge.
Derrick Henry followed up his career-best 1,540 yards in 15 games in the regular season with the best postseason rushing performance in franchise history, churning out 182 yards in Saturday night's 20-13 win at AFC East champion New England in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
The Titans are more than happy going a bit old school, doing so successfully with Henry, a stingy defense and All-Pro punter Brett Kern to stun veteran quarterback Tom Brady in what might have been his final game with the Patriots, the six-time Super Bowl winners whose bid to repeat as NFL champs was brought to a swift conclusion by sixth-seeded Tennessee.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel, fresh off winning his playoff coaching debut in his second season, said Sunday that his team understands how important the ground game is, especially in the playoffs with this offense and the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry, whose 34 carries included a 1-yard run to cap the touchdown drive that put Tennessee ahead for good just before halftime Saturday night in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
"Derrick trains and prepares to be able to handle that load, to carry that load," Vrabel said. "He's got a certain skill set. That's size and strength and speed, durability. Those are all great qualities for a running back in January. So he'll do everything that he has to to get ready and to do whatever it is that we ask him to do in the game plan."
Now the Titans are on to Baltimore, where the rested Ravens (14-2), the AFC North winners, await with the NFL's best record. Tennessee is in the divisional round for the second time in three seasons.
Said Henry: "We know exactly what we're facing, we know what type of team they are — they're the No. 1 team in the (NFL), so it's self-explanatory."
Saturday's 8:15 p.m. game will be televised by CBS, with the winner advancing to face either the Houston Texans (11-6) or the Kansas City Chiefs (12-4). AFC West champ Kansas City hosts AFC South winner Houston at 3:05 p.m. Sunday.
The running game. Tennessee's offensive line pushed the Patriots back and gave Henry room to run. Tennessee finished with 201 rushing yards, second-best in franchise history. Henry was part of the previous postseason best two years ago, when the Titans piled up 202 yards in a wild-card win at Kansas City. Only the Ravens ran for more yards (210) against New England this season, which had the No. 1 defense overall and had been sixth against the run.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Kicking field goals. Still. The Titans were the NFL's worst in the regular season, making only 44.4% of their attempts, and their fourth and current kicker this season, Greg Joseph, has yet to attempt a field goal in his three games. Vrabel passed up what would have been a long kick in the fourth quarter at New England, choosing instead to chew time off the clock with a couple of penalties before a neutral-zone infraction by the Patriots. Vrabel then let Kern punt and trusted his defense.
Henry. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama dominated as he accounted for 75% of the Titans' offense. Henry not only set postseason franchise records for carries and rushing yards, he gained 204 of Tennessee's 272 yards of total offense. In the Super Bowl era, only two other players had a bigger share of a team's total yards in a playoff game: Eric Dickerson with 77.2% for the Los Angeles Rams against the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 4, 1986, and Larry Brown with 76% for the Washington Redskins against the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 26, 1971.
Henry also had the second-most yards on the road in the playoffs since 1950. Only Freeman McNeil ran for more with 202 yards for the New York Jets against the Cincinnati Jets on Jan. 9, 1983. Henry also topped his own postseason franchise mark of 191 yards from scrimmage, set in 2018 at Kansas City.
"He's so hard to tackle — the offensive line did a good job of creating some creases for him," Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "There at the end, they were loading up the box, and he's still able to get positive yards."
Tannehill after his worst performance yet for Tennessee in his playoff debut. He's now 8-3 as a starter for the Titans, but at New England he was just 8-of-15 passing for 72 yards and a touchdown. He also was intercepted and had two fumbles, though neither was lost — he recovered one and Henry fell on the other.
Titans linebacker Jayon Brown was limited to 10 snaps after hurting his shoulder. When he spoke Sunday, Vrabel only said Brown was sore.
0 — Points allowed by the Titans' defense in the second half to the Patriots. Tennessee has allowed an average of 13.5 points in its past two games, clinching a playoff berth at division rival Houston and ousting New England. The Titans are looking much more like the unit that didn't allow more than 20 points through the first seven games this season. Tennessee has held opponents to 20 or fewer points in 11 of 17 games.
Go to Baltimore on Saturday and do to the Ravens what they've done to Tennessee twice in the past in the divisional round.