Titans’ Henry looks to build on postseason debut vs Patriots

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Derrick Henry isn’t a big or brash talker. That’s what made the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner calling his performance “kind of soft” in Tennessee’s regular-season finale stand out.

The massive running back sure made up for that with an NFL postseason debut for the record books.

Getting Henry to acknowledge any change in his own confidence or being pleased after a big game is as tough as tackling him in the open field.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

“I’m just trying to play better every week,” Henry said . “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.”

Henry rebounded from a game in which he ran for 51 yards by setting a franchise playoff record with 191 yards from scrimmage, helping the Titans rally for a 22-21 victory over Kansas City in the wild-card round. He topped the previous mark set by Billy Cannon in January 1961 with the best performance by a running back in the playoffs in at least a decade.

Now it’s up to Bill Belichick and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (13-3) to slow down Henry on Saturday night in their AFC divisional game. Belichick says everyone on defense has to do his job.

“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.”

Against Jacksonville on Dec. 31, Henry made up for a rough day running by taking a screen 66 yards for a touchdown . But his first three carries 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.”

The second-year running back out of Alabama bounced back with a career-high 156 yards, 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 , 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 vs. 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 the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry does best. Only the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt had more yards rushing (474) in the NFL in the fourth quarter this season than Henry (390), who averaged a league-best 6.09 yards per carry over the final 15 minutes.

Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia says Henry is powerful with a dangerous stiff-arm.

“If it’s a one-on-one tackling situation, it’s extremely difficult to get him down in that instance,” Patricia said.

Henry teamed with quarterback Marcus Mariota to pile up a franchise-record 202 yards rushing for a postseason game. The Patriots ranked 31st, allowing 4.7 yards per rushing play.

DeMarco Murray already has been declared out for a third straight game for Tennessee, leaving the backfield to Henry.

“It’s my job trying to help this team win games,” Henry said. “It’s always fun when you’re playing football.”

NOTES: LG Quinton Spain (back) practiced fully after missing the last two days. CB Logan Ryan (ankle) practiced fully after being limited Wednesday.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Titans running back DeMarco Murray will not play vs Pats

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey says running back DeMarco Murray will not play against the New England Patriots in the AFC divisional round.

Mularkey said Wednesday that Murray is not close enough to play Saturday night in New England.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

The coach had listed Murray as day to day after the Titans (10-7) beat Kansas City in the wild-card round. But Murray has yet to practice, and Mularkey says the veteran running back is close enough to play next week.

Left guard Quinton Spain missed a second straight practice with his back. Mularkey says Spain is doing better.

Mularkey says he gave linebacker Brian Orakpo the day off from practice. Cornerback Logan Ryan (ankle) was limited in his return to practice.

Derrick Henry will start his third straight game at running back.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL.

Titans rally from 21-3 hole, beat Chiefs 22-21 in playoffs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Marcus Mariota led Tennessee to three second-half touchdowns, incredibly throwing one of his TD passes to himself , and the Titans rallied from a 21-3 deficit to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 22-21 on Saturday for their first playoff win in 14 years.

Mariota threw for 205 yards and two scores, including the 22-yard go-ahead strike to Eric Decker with just over six minutes left that ushered the Titans into the divisional round of the playoffs.

“Special, special,” Mariota said. “I’m a part of a great team. I’m a part of a group of guys that really just believe in each other. And, it’s something special and I’m look forward to playing next week.”

They’ll head to New England or Pittsburgh next week.

Derrick Henry had a career-high 156 yards rushing and another score for Tennessee (10-7), while a defense that was fileted by Alex Smith and the Chiefs (10-7) during the first half pitched a shutout in the second half – dooming the Kansas City franchise to another humiliating postseason defeat.

The Chiefs haven’t won a home playoff game since January 1994.

Smith threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns , but most of that came before halftime. He couldn’t get on track in the second half and misfired on fourth-and-9 at the Titans 44 with just over two minutes to go, denying the Chiefs a chance for Harrison Butker to kick a go-ahead field goal.

The letdown was made even more depressing when Henry appeared to fumble as Tennessee tried to run out the clock.

The Chiefs’ Derrick Johnson picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown with 1:47 to go, but a video replay showed that Henry was down and the call was overturned.

Tennessee succeeded in running out the clock from there.

In the first half, the Chiefs looked every bit the team that had won four straight in convincing fashion, and the Titans looked every bit the team that backed into the playoffs.

Kareem Hunt, the league’s top rusher this season , plunged in from 1 yard for a 7-0 lead, and Smith hit Travis Kelce with a 13-yard touchdown pass a few minutes later. Smith added another touchdown toss to Demarcus Robinson on the final offensive play for a 21-3 lead at the break.

Smith was 19 of 23 for 231 yards in the half. Mariota was 7 of 13 for 81 yards and a pick.

The Titans’ young quarterback got on track in the second half, though, converting a couple of key third downs – one of them with his legs – in marching his team 91 yards. He capped it by throwing the first TD pass to himself, the first player to accomplish the feat in playoff history.

The previous player to do it in any game was the Vikings’ Brad Johnson during the 1997 season.

“Right place, right time,” Mariota said with a smile.

Tennessee nearly squandered its momentum when Adoree Jackson fumbled a punt, but the Chiefs were unable to pick up a first down and Butker knocked a 48-yard field goal off the upright.

This time, it was Henry who led the Titans downfield, capping another TD drive by rumbling nearly untouched 35 yards right up the middle to get within 21-16 with 14:08 to go.

“Grit. It’s just grit,” Henry said of his team’s rally.

“You’ve got to believe in each other, man. We were down like this last year and we came back. We told them we’ve got 30 minutes left, all we’ve got to do is play our game, execute the plays and everything will take care of itself.”

The Chiefs’ offense had been rendered impotent by that point, unable to move the ball much after Kelce left with a concussion in the first half. The Titans blanketed Tyreek Hill whenever he touched the ball, and they stacked the box to slow Hunt down in obvious rushing situations.

The Titans finally pulled ahead when Mariota threw a strike to Decker from 22 yards, and that led to a moment of controversy. The Titans went for a 2-point conversion and the field-goal edge, and Mariota lost the ball as he was getting sacked by the Chiefs’ Daniel Sorenson.

Frank Zombo picked it up and began running for two points that would have swung the lead back to Kansas City, but the officials had ruled that Mariota’s progress had been stopped.

It wound up being a crucial call in a game that came down to the wire.

RECORD RALLY

Only two road teams have rallied from at least 18 down to win a playoff game in NFL history. The Cowboys came back from 21-3 down in the first half to beat the 49ers 30-28 in December 1972, and the Lions came back from 27-7 in the second half to beat the 49ers in December 1957.

KELCE HURT

Kelce sustained a concussion on a wicked blow from Titans S Johnathan Cyprien late in the first half. Kelce, who had four catches for 66 yards, lay stunned on the turf for a moment before wobbling toward his huddle. Trainers quickly took him to the locker room.

UP NEXT

The Titans’ opponent in the divisional round will be decided Sunday. If the Jaguars beat the Bills in their wild-card matchup, Tennessee heads to New England to face the No. 1 seed. If Buffalo wins, the Titans head to face No. 2 seed Pittsburgh.

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