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.
“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.”
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