NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans broke away from what has been their winning formula in their 16-15 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
The Titans had traditionally used running back Derrick Henry as a hammer to wear down defenses and then gone for the knockout blow in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee had an opportunity to do that in New Orleans when it got the ball on its own 27-yard line with 6 minutes, 42 seconds left on the clock, down by one point. But instead of riding Henry to the lead, the Titans utilized rookie back Tyjae Spears, who rushed for 8 yards on the drive’s first play, eventually leading to a 29-yard field goal to pull within one point with a little over two minutes left.
Spears’ 33 snaps were five more than Henry, who saw the field for 28 plays.
“We’re just trying to get everybody involved,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Monday. “Let’s continue to find ways to get Tyjae and Derrick in there.”
Henry led the NFL in rushing attempts in three of the past four seasons, accounting for an NFL-high 36% of the Titans’ yards on offense, according to ESPN Stats & Information. During that stretch, Tennessee made an AFC Championship Game appearance and won consecutive AFC South Division titles.
Vrabel admitted to trying to run a few times with Henry, but it wasn’t successful. Henry had five carries for 12 yards in the fourth quarter, including two for minus-1 yard on the final drive. Henry finished with 15 carries for 63 yards and caught two passes for 56.
At 29 years old, Henry is in the final year of a four-year, $50 million contract with the Titans he signed in July 2020. The offseason was tough sledding for running backs in search of a new contract.
The New York Giants signed 26-year-old back Saquon Barkley to a one-year, $11 million contract after placing the franchise tag on him. Josh Jacobs led the NFL with 1,653 rushing yards but had the franchise tag placed on him before agreeing to a one-year, $11.7 million deal with the Las Vegas Raiders.
The devaluation of the running back position caused player to have a Zoom call that blossomed from a group text that Henry sent to the league’s top ball carriers.
Henry made it clear that he isn’t frustrated about not getting the ball in the season opener as much as he usually does.
“I trust the coaching staff, what we do,” Henry said. “Everybody needs to touch the ball. It’s not all about me.”
When asked about Henry’s involvement going forward, Vrabel said the Saints game was an outlier.
“We’re going to need Derrick and everybody so we can figure out what we can do consistently,” Vrabel said. “Derrick will be a huge part of that, I can assure you.”