Life without Derrick Henry started Wednesday for the Tennessee Titans and how they handle it mentally may be as important as his physical loss.
“It is hard obviously.” said Quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “Losing Derrick (Henry), a guy who puts so much into this team and done so much for this team, he works so hard and has been so durable, so it is almost a big shock I think for Derrick (Henry) and everyone else involved. Kind of shocked by it. I am glad everything seems to be going well with him so far, but you mentioned it, we have to turn the page. Not turn the page, but keep moving. We have to keep moving forward as a team, as an offense, and find a way to continue to play our football and play good.”
Henry was almost taking on mythical status with the Titans. He was bigger, faster, stronger than any back in the league and he was indestructible. Until now.
Sunday night after knocking off Kansas City the “experts” were calling the Titans the best team in the AFC. That took an immediate pivot Monday morning when news broke about his foot injury and suddenly those very same “experts” were saying the Titans season was now over.
Titans guard Rodger Saffold is not interested in outside opinions, “When it comes down to it, it’s all about us. It’s just about the guys that are in the locker room, that are in the coaches offices and the staff, everybody that is here that works with the Titans. It’s all about us, we’re not really worried about all of the outside noise. We just come to play.”
With AJ Brown and Julio Jones either hurt or sick much of the way to start the season Henry had to carry the Titans offense and was on a record shattering pace for carries for a season and was also on pace to be the first player in NFL history to rush for 2000 yards in back to back seasons. If the Titans needed a play, give it to Henry. If the Titans needed a spark Henry provided it. Most of all though Henry set the tone for a team built on toughness. The 6-3, 250 pound lightning bolt punished defenders and then left them in the dust. The team played in that image and now that image is gone for a while and the leadership has to come from elsewhere.
“Obviouslsly he’ll be missed.” said safety and Captain Kevin Byard “but at the end of the day nobody in this league is going to feel sorry for us because we lost Derrick. We’re going to have to adjust and it’s a next man up mentality and that’s just an example of our team being resilient and if you have a jersey on and you have shoulder pads and you’re called to go in the game you’re expected to perform.”
The Titans have scored points with huge performances by Henry. he did not top 100 yards in either of their last two games were they scored 27 and 34 points. They still had the threat of Henry though and having him back there opened up big opportunities in the passing game. The question now is Jeremy McNicholls, Adrian Peterson and D’Onte Foreman provide a big enough threat to give Ryan Tannehill, AJ Brown and Julio Jones some of the same opportunities in the passing game?
The pressure is clearly on Tannehill now who has four touchdown passes and a touchdown run in the last two games. Mike Vrabel said “everyone” has to do more, that starts with the Titans quarterback who has to take his turn carrying the team until Henry returns.
Tannehill made it clear he will not try to do too much, “I kind of approach each week independently and I want to do whatever it takes to win. If that is throwing the ball more, then it is throwing the ball more. If that is running the ball more, then it is running the ball more. I just love winning football games. Whatever it takes to win and give our team the best chance to win, that is what I will do.”
For 8 weeks that meant handing the ball to Derrick Henry, but those days are over for the near future an the Titans have to find another way.