The Tennessee Titans likely have plenty of New Year’s resolutions heading into the NFL playoffs this month, but one must be atop the list.
They must get running back Derrick Henry back into the lineup, but not too quickly.
The team designated Henry for return off injured reserve this week, giving the team its best player back on the cusp of a high seeding in the AFC playoff standings. After Henry was lost to a fracture that left him sidelined for eight weeks post-surgery, the Titans shuffled the deck to replace him, including a brief look at veteran rusher Adrian Peterson, before striking gold with a revitalized D’Onta Foreman.
With Henry returning to practice this week, the team now has 21 days to activate last year’s AP Offensive Player of the Year and get him ready for the postseason.
“It is exciting to get him back out there,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said Wednesday about Henry’s return. “He has put in a lot of work to get to this point, and it has been a while. No doubt it is exciting to get him back out there and we will see what he can do.”
Added Titans head coach Mike Vrabel about the decision to activate Henry for practice: “Just to see how he responds and ask him to start some of these things he is going to need to do in the football game. No different than what we have done with any other guy that has come back from the injured reserve and as they start their return to play.”
Yet Henry is certainly not just another player for the Titans. He had rushed for 937 yards and 10 touchdowns and add another 154 receiving yards the focal point of the Tennessee offense.
While Henry is probably not going to play in the Titans’ regular season finale Sunday against the Houston Texans, he would get an added week to prepare for playoff contention if the Titans are able to lock up the top seed.
A victory Sunday would give the Titans lead positioning in the AFC playoff race, homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, a bye week before the divisional round of the playoffs and more time to get their once-MVP candidate time to get back into his best shape.
If the team can win Sunday, they’d also be in great position to keep the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs at bay. A Tennessee loss and Kansas City win would give Patrick Mahomes and the team a homefield route to another Super Bowl. With KC in a winnable game against Denver Sunday, the stakes are high for a Tennessee team with Super Bowl hopes for a third straight year.
“It is huge,” Tannehill said about locking in a top seeding Sunday. “A big opportunity for us. A division game on the road. … To be able to lock in the one seed and secure homefield advantage would be huge for us. Excited for the opportunity to go down there and play some really good football and come away with a win.”
Barring disaster Sunday, the Titans could enter the playoffs at home with a healthy Tannehill, Henry, Foreman, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones.
Want even more reason to root for a Sunday win? Beating the Texans would keep the Titans from getting swept by their lowly divisional foe.
“I think winning takes care of everything,” Vrabel said in response to the slim possibility of resting players. “That is the one thing that I have learned since I have been in sports or athletics is that winning usually takes care of everything.”
Henry’s return is the focus, one that really could make all the difference for a Titans team hungry to get to February football. For Tannehill, it will all reach its peak once Henry steps back on the field.
“I think the real culmination will be when he gets to step back onto the field on gameday,” the QB said. “It has been cool to see him put in the work and the time to do everything he can to get back on the field. No one in this building works as hard as Derrick, does and I am excited to see his hard work pay off.”