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.

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“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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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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Chiefs beat Miami 29-13 to win back-to-back AFC West titles

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Andy Reid addressed the Kansas City Chiefs in a jubilant locker room dressed from head-to-toe in a Santa Claus suit, which not only fit him perfectly but was also perfectly fitting.

The Chiefs had just given their fans quite a present.

Alex Smith threw for 304 yards and a touchdown in another steady performance, Kareem Hunt ran for 91 yards and a score, and the Chiefs beat the Miami Dolphins 29-13 on Sunday to clinch back-to-back AFC West titles for the first time in franchise history.

“Just phenomenal,” Reid said, likely smiling beneath his fluffy white beard. “But we’re not going to sit on this. We’re not done yet. We’re going to enjoy the holiday and get right back at it.”

Tyreek Hill had six catches for 109 yards, and Harrison Butker converted five field goals, as the Chiefs (9-6) dashed what faint postseason hope the Dolphins (6-9) still harbored.

“It’s hard to win football games only kicking field goals,” Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler said. “A couple fumbles, couple of missed opportunities here, a penalty when we’re driving – it’s those types of things that’ll hurt you.”

Cutler threw for 286 yards and a touchdown, but a big chunk of that came on a 65-yard toss to Jakeem Grant late in the first half. Otherwise, Miami went 0 for 8 on third down and struggled against a Chiefs defense that has been stingy and opportunistic the past two weeks.

That’s coincided with the return of Marcus Peters from his disciplinary suspension.

The Chiefs’ star cornerback had two interceptions and forced a fumble against the Chargers last week, a win that pushed them to the brink of the playoffs. He recovered a fumble and forced another on Sunday, giving Peters a hand in five turnovers the past two weeks.

“He’s always around the ball,” said Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, who forced the first fumble. “Marcus is always playing with fire, this whole year.”

Both turnovers led to points, but they weren’t the Dolphins’ only costly miscues.

They also were nailed for defensive holding four times, all of which came on three scoring drives for Kansas City. And the Dolphins inability to get off the field on third down, after holding opponents to 8 for 39 the past two games, was similarly deflating.

“Got in a couple situations that we couldn’t use some of the things that we had planned,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “We just need to find a way to be consistent and get them off the field.”

Still, the Dolphins had the ball trailing 17-13 late in the first half, the outcome and their longshot playoff hopes were still in the balance. But they soon went three-and-out and the Chiefs added a field goal to make it 20-13 at the break, then another to start the second half.

Even when the Dolphins made a crucial stop on fourth down to get the ball back later in the third quarter, they squandered the opportunity. Peters stripped Kenny Stills to give the Chiefs the ball, and Butker hit his fourth chip-shot field goal for a 26-13 lead with 12:19 to go.

That gave a sparse crowd that turned out on Christmas Eve, braving slick roads from an overnight snowfall and frigid wind chills at kickoff, plenty of time to celebrate a division title.

Turn their thoughts toward a home playoff game in the new year, too.

“It’s a great feeling,” Hunt said. “We’ve got these fans that are going to go crazy for the playoff game, and we get to play in Arrowhead Stadium one more time.”

FROZEN FIELD

There was no tarp on the field overnight, so a crew of workers used shovels to remove about an inch of snow by hand. The footing turned out to be fine, but Smith thought the cold weather gave Kansas City an advantage. “We have a lot of experience playing in cold weather,” he said. “All the little things, the snaps, they’re that much harder, and I think all the reps do help.”

STATS AND STREAKS

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce had four catches for 47 yards and a score , and has a catch in 63 straight games. … Chiefs coach Andy Reid improved to 5-1 against Miami. … Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry had five catches for 51 yards, giving him a league-best 103 catches this season. … The Dolphins had won seven of their last 10 against Kansas City. Their last loss at Arrowhead Stadium was in 2002.

INJURY NOTES

Dolphins DT Vincent Taylor hurt his knee on the opening kickoff, while CB Alterraun Verner went down with a hamstring injury later in the half. Miami DE Andre Branch played despite a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Dolphins conclude their season against the Bills next Sunday.

Chiefs head to Denver on Sunday to finish their regular season.

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