The elder statesman on the Chiefs’ defense stood in front of his locker this week for an obligatory conversation with the media. Within a couple of questions, linebacker Derrick Johnson made his primary talking point rather obvious. That message — centered around the need to stop the run in a playoff matchup with the Titans — was delivered in front of video cameras and tape recorders, but it felt intended for his teammates.
On four occasions, Johnson twisted an answer back to the topic.
In other words, the Chiefs knew what was coming Saturday.
It didn’t seem to matter.
The Titans ran for 148 yards in the second half of a 22-21 comeback win Saturday against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The charge was led by Derrick Henry, who finished with 156 yards on 23 carries for the game.
“I thought the coaches did a great job of explaining the scenarios, explaining the situations, keeping to the game plan, not wavering at all,” Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “Again, Derrick and those guys up front, even the receivers creating space, that’s what I thought really helped us on offense.”
The Titans played without DeMarco Murray, who led them in carries in 2017, but he was hardly missed. Murray’s absence left a heavy workload for Henry, and Henry responded as a man who has long been waiting for the bell-cow role.
The majority of his damage came after halftime, as the Titans’ made their comeback. Henry scored on a 35-yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter. He wasn’t touched on the initial 33 yards of his march toward the end zone, a gallop that cut the Chiefs’ lead to 21-16.
On what changed for the Titans in the second half — when they scored 19 of their 22 points — Mariota said, “Helps when you can start running the football. I thought Derrick had a great game for us, and it just kind of clicked from there.”
That’s how the Titans prefer for things to click — run first, pass second. That’s why Johnson and his Chiefs teammates spent the week talking about the importance of defending the run.
It just didn’t happen.
“Tennessee was the tougher team today, and that (stinks) saying that,” Johnson said. “That stinks.”
Henry is the bigger of the Titans’ backfield options — he’s 6-3, 250 — and he found most of his success between the tackles. Not fancy. But effective.
And like most big backs, he found success against a tiring defense. The Chiefs actually held Henry somewhat in check in the opening half — when he had 10 carries for 42 yards and did not gain a single first down on a rush — but he rolled through tackles afterward.
Henry had 114 yards after halftime. That was capped by the game-clinching first down on the final drive, preventing the Chiefs’ offense one last opportunity with the football. He used the aid of a block from his quarterback.
A picture-perfect ending to the Titans’ day on the ground.
“That’s what it came down to,” Mariota said. “They had probably 11 guys in the box, and (I was) just trying to help my guy out.”