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Opinion: Derrick Henry's legend grows as star RB carries Titans with record pace

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This is Mount Olympus stuff we’re witnessing.

You understand that, right? I ask because it’s happening so often with the Tennessee Titans that it can start to feel routine.

And it’s so not.

With each passing week, Derrick Henry is running into mythology. The Titans’ running back is so big and fast and durable that he has left logic and common sense to the mere football mortals, a group of which he has ceased to be a part.

An example: During his 76-yard touchdown run Monday night against the Buffalo Bills, Henry reached 21.8 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That’s the fastest run for any NFL ball carrier this season and the fastest of Henry’s career.

See what I mean?

And yet ...

“Still too slow,” said Henry after the Titans’ 34-31 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

Henry is 27 years old and about 250 pounds. How could he possibly be that fast?

“I'm from Florida,” he said. “Florida boys, it's in the water. If you're from Florida, you've got to have speed.”

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Henry is confident, but he’s not cocky. He’s notoriously humble and resists talking about himself. He always credits his blocking. After Monday’s big win, he referenced the “rat poison” phrase made famous by Nick Saban, his former coach at Alabama. He means to not read too many press clippings and get a big head.

After all these years, Henry never has.

He might not want to read this, though:

There were a lot of very good football players on the field at Nissan Stadium on Monday.

There was only one truly great player.

Don’t kid yourself: What we're seeing in Henry is greatness, the rare kind that doesn't come along very often. The type of greatness that can go win a game by itself in the NFL. Henry has done that so many times now for the Titans that I’ve lost count. It's almost expected.

On Monday night, Henry ran for 143 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. With the Titans trailing 6-0 early and struggling mightily on offense, he changed the game at a moment’s notice, racing past the Bills’ secondary at 21.8 mph. He scored twice in the second half, including the winning touchdown of 13 yards with 3:05 remaining.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) celebrates his 76-yard touch down against the Bills at Nissan Stadium Monday, Oct. 18, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) celebrates his 76-yard touch down against the Bills at Nissan Stadium Monday, Oct. 18, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.

“We continue to jump on Derrick's back,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “And he's willing and able to carry us. It's something that you know that you have in your back pocket, front pocket. We pull it out, and we use it.”

Henry’s success opened up the passing game, allowing quarterback Ryan Tannehill to get going down the stretch and for A.J. Brown to catch seven passes for 91 yards. The Titans scored on each of their three full possessions after halftime, putting together drives of 67, 55 and 70 yards.

“That’s what No. 22 (Henry) does to you,” said Bills coach Sean McDermott. “He makes you commit to the run.”

Want more absurd Henry numbers? Entering Week 6 of this NFL season, he had 52 more touches than any other running back.

You think he’s going to wear down. Then he just doesn’t.

Until I see something Henry can't do on the field, I am now refusing to believe there is anything. Doubt is a sucker's bet with Henry.

His 143 yards against the Bills was the first time in his NFL career that he’s reached 100 yards in five consecutive games. He’s averaging 130.5 yards per game, which puts him on a pace for 2,219 yards through 17 games.

That would be easily the best season in NFL history.

Read that last sentence again.

Eric Dickerson’s all-time NFL single-season rushing record – set in 1984 – is 2,105 yards. (Yes, that was in 16 games. For the record, Henry’s pace for 16 games is 2,088).

Henry is seriously challenging to also be the first-ever NFL player to reach 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

Oh, and here’s one more ridiculous stat, just because I can't help myself: Henry hasn’t been credited with a fumble this season.

Are you kidding me? Who touches the ball so often and doesn’t fumble? Dickerson was credited with 14 – 14 – fumbles during that 1984 season. Last season, Henry had three.

I could keep going. When it comes to absurd Henry feats, the well never runs dry.

"And," said Titans guard Rodger Saffold, "the confidence continues to grow."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Derrick Henry's legend grows as he sets record pace with Titans

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