Derrick Henry, Titans run over Ravens to get to AFC championship game
With his bright red shoes and relentless running, Derrick Henry grabbed the spotlight and wouldn’t let go.
When he was done leading Tennessee into the AFC championship game Saturday night, he did a lengthy victory lap around the Baltimore Ravens’ home, slapping hands and taking selfies with Titans fans.
It has been quite a two-week ride.
“It’s not just me,” Henry said after rushing for 195 yards and throwing a three-yard touchdown pass in a 28-12 upset of the NFL’s top team Saturday night. “It’s a team effort. We’re all playing collectively as an offense, as a whole. We’re just locked in. We believe in each other. We communicate. It’s working out there.“
The Titans fear no one, and why should they with Henry rushing — and even throwing — the ball and a big-play defense making clutch stops and turnovers?
The 49ers used a strong running game, a suffocating defense and a big block from, yes, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to dominate the Vikings 27-10.
One week after dominating defending Super Bowl champion New England, the Titans (11-7) eliminated Baltimore (14-3). The Ravens had won their last 12 games, with quarterback Lamar Jackson setting records and looking unstoppable.
On Saturday night, it was Henry who was unstoppable, despite Baltimore stacking eight men up front on almost two-thirds of his runs. At times, Henry used power to create space. At others, the holes the line provided were huge.
“Watch us work,” said Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher this season. “We don’t do too much talking. We just go work and believe in each other. That’s our mentality. We’re going to come in here and work. Focus on finishing.”
Tennessee’s defense had two interceptions of Jackson, who also lost a fumble, and the Titans twice stopped Baltimore on fourth and one.
Henry’s jump-pass to wide receiver Corey Davis displayed yet another of his skills. He has completed three throws in four attempts in his career.
But it’s the way he plows over and through opponents that makes Henry — and the Titans — dangerous. Next week, they will go after their second Super Bowl trip and first since the 2000 season, either at Kansas City or Houston. The last sixth seed to get to the big game was Green Bay in the 2010 season; the Packers won it all.
Tennessee scored all of its points off takeaways or fourth-down stops.
Ryan Tannehill’s throws to Jonnu Smith and Kalif Raymond, who missed the last two games in the concussion protocol, gave Tennessee a 14-point edge.
The Titans’ first score came after tight end Mark Andrews, the Ravens’ top receiver this season, mistimed his leap and had Jackson’s pass deflect into the air. Safety Kevin Byard was there to pick it off.
Byard scooted 31 yards down the left side, and with a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Jackson added, Tennessee was at the Baltimore 35-yard line. The hushed crowd then saw five straight Titans runs to the four-yard line before Earl Thomas came free untouched for an eight-yard sack.
Tennessee simply shrugged, and Smith made a juggling catch in the left corner of the end zone. Replay determined he landed barely in bounds for a 7-0 lead.
A fourth-down stop with less than a yard to go — the first time in nine tries all season the Ravens failed on fourth and one — set up Tennessee’s next touchdown. Tannehill made it 14-0 with his gorgeous long pass that floated over Raymond’s shoulder into his arms behind All-Pro defensive back Marcus Peters, acquired from the Rams during the season. The folks in the stands dressed in purple, who hadn’t seen their team in such a deep hole since the end of September, had gone silent.
David Koechner, Rob Riggle and Eric Stonestreet (and Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis) are part of a cadre of comic actors who are die-hard Chiefs fans.
Henry’s touchdown pass was the first by a running back in the playoffs since 1987, when Allen Rice of Minnesota managed it.
Henry is the first player with two games of 175 rushing yards or more in the same postseason. He has set the postseason single-game rushing record for the Titans in consecutive weeks.
He also has the most yards rushing through his first four postseason games. He came in with 366 and now is at 561, beating Hall of Famer Terrell Davis and Arian Foster, who were tied with 515 through their first four.
Jackson’s superb season ended with a major thud. He finished with gaudy numbers — 31 for 59 for 365 yards, 20 carries for 143 yards — and a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hayden Hurst. But the Ravens flopped ignominiously.
Jackson was better than in his previous playoff game, a wild-card loss to the Chargers last year. At halftime in that one, Jackson was two for eight for 17 yards and an interception for a 0.0 quarterback rating. He came on in helping Baltimore make that one close in the second half.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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