View Original Notice ? Titans, healthy Derrick Henry eager to face Bengals
By TERESA M. WALKER AP Pro Football Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have survived using more players than any NFL team in a non-strike season and still earned the AFC’s top seed.
They’re as rested and healthy as they’ve been all season, and now they have running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s top rusher in 2019 and 2020, back for the postseason.
It’s time to take the next step Saturday in their AFC divisional game with Cincinnati.
“Everything that we dream about since we were kids is right there in front of us,” All-Pro safety Kevin Byard said.
The Titans (12-5) start their third straight postseason before a sold-out crowd at Nissan Stadium trying to take advantage of home-field advantage at a venue where they went 7-2 during the regular season. They lost a wild-card game to Baltimore here a year ago and haven’t won a playoff game at home since Jan. 11, 2003.
The two-time AFC South champs have won three straight and four of five. One more win puts them in their second AFC championship game in three seasons.
“These guys were prepared to play long into 2022,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said.
This is the revival of an old AFC Central rivalry between fourth-seeded Cincinnati and the former Houston Oilers. The Bengals won the only playoff game between these teams, 27-14, on Jan. 6, 1991. That was their last postseason win until second-year quarterback Joe Burrow led them to a 26-19 victory over the Raiders to snap that 31-year drought.
Now, these young Bengals (11-7) must end another playoff skid to reach Cincinnati’s first AFC championship game since January 1989 and third overall. The Bengals are 0-7 in the playoffs away from home, and Houston is the only other NFL team that has yet to win a road playoff game.
“We’re here to win,” Bengals running back Joe Mixon said. “We don’t care about some theory I guess that everybody’s pretty much worried about. We know what we’ve got in front of us. We know what we have to do in order to get where we want to be. We’ve got the path laid out for us.”
Of course, the Titans running back who wears No. 22 would return for a game on Jan. 22, 2022. Henry, the 2020 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year, has been taken off injured reserve and will start his first game since breaking his right foot on Oct. 31.
Henry has practiced since Jan. 5, and teammates couldn’t be happier for the return of the man who has averaged 117.1 yards rushing in the postseason. The unknown is how much the Titans can hand the ball to someone who hasn’t played in a game in 12 weeks, even if Henry is 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds.
WOULD-BE TRIPLETS REUNITED
The Titans had Henry along with wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones for all of 120 snaps over five games because of injuries. Not only is Henry healthy, both Brown and Jones, the seven-time Pro Bowler picked up in a trade last June, are feeling good.
Brown led the team with 869 yards receiving and five touchdown catches. Jones had his worst statistical season while dealing with a nagging hamstring that landed him on injured reserve at one point. Jones did average 14 yards per catch, the highest among team receivers with at least 10 catches.
“I’m in a great space now, confident, everything,” Jones said. “I’m ready to go.”
PROTECTING THE BALL
Burrow had an NFL-high 14 interceptions through 13 weeks of the season. In the five games he’s played since then – including last week’s playoff win – he’s had none, with 13 touchdown passes. His streak of 180 pass attempts without an interception is the second-longest stretch in the NFL behind the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.
The Bengals also have not turned over the ball at all since two fumbled punts in an overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 12. The team is plus-4 in turnovers since then.
The Bengals will have defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who cleared concussion protocol for this game. His 14 sacks in the regular season led the Bengals and was the fifth-best total in the NFL. He had a strip-sack of the Raiders’ Derek Carr last week that resulted in a turnover. The concussion forced him out of the game later.
“He’s been in these moments before,” Coach Zac Taylor said. “He’s one of our premier players. It’s good to have him.”
Cincinnati will be without defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, placed on injured reserve after hurting a foot last week. Hendrickson and Ogunjobi were signed as free agents before the season to beef up the pass rush and run defense. It worked.
Enough defensive linemen are among the walking wounded that Cincinnati signed defensive tackle Zach Kerr from Arizona’s practice squad. Taylor said Kerr could play Saturday.
The Titans, along with Green Bay, had the latest bye week during the regular season on Dec. 5, and they’ve been off since Jan 9 after earning a first-round bye. Nobody has been better coming off nine or more days of rest than the Titans, 8-0 since Vrabel was hired in 2018.
BENGALS (11-7) AT TITANS (12-5)
WHEN: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
TV/RADIO: Ch. 2, 570 AM
BETTING LINE: Titans by 3½, according to FanDuel SportsBook
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Bengals 10-7; Titans 10-7
SERIES RECORD: The Titans lead, 40-35-1
LAST MEETING: The Bengals won, 31-20, on Nov. 1, 2020, in Cincinnati.
LAST WEEK: Bengals beat Raiders, 26-19; Titans had a first-round bye after beating the Texans, 28-25.
BENGALS OFFENSE: OVERALL (13), RUSH (23), PASS (7), SCORING (t-7).
BENGALS DEFENSE: OVERALL (18), RUSH (5), PASS (26), SCORING (t-17).
TITANS OFFENSE: OVERALL (17), RUSH (5), PASS (24), SCORING (15).
TITANS DEFENSE: OVERALL (10), RUSH (2), PASS (20), SCORING (14).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Bengals 0; Titans minus-3.
BENGALS PLAYER TO WATCH: Burrow. The top pick in the 2020 draft set franchise records with 4,611 yards passing and 34 TD passes during the regular season, and his 108.3 passer rating ranked second in the NFL. He completed 70.6% of his passes for 244 yards and two TDs in his playoff debut last week. Burrow has not been intercepted in his past five starts, averaging 344 yards passing with 13 TDs in that span.
TITANS PLAYER TO WATCH: Henry. The 2020 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year was the NFL’s leading rusher with 937 yards when he broke his right foot Oct. 31 – and still finished ninth in the league. His 111.7-yard rushing average in the postseason is second only to Terrell Davis’ mark of 142.5 yards for the most in the NFL since 1970 with at least five games. And he now has fresh legs after being activated Friday off injured reserve.
KEY MATCHUP: The Titans’ defense against Cincinnati’s passing game. Burrow has plenty of targets with Pro Bowl WR Ja’Marr Chase setting a franchise record with 1,455 yards receiving. Tee Higgins also had a 1,000-yard season, while Tyler Boyd wasn’t far behind with 828 yards. The Titans were the only NFL team with three pass rushers with at least eight sacks, and they tied for ninth with 43 sacks. All-Pro safety Kevin Byard had five interceptions in the regular season.
KEY INJURIES: Bengals DT Larry Ogunjobi (ankle) is out for the rest of the playoffs. Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson was cleared from concussion protocol and will play. The Titans are as healthy as they’ve been in months with only DL Teair Tart (ankle) questionable.
SERIES NOTES: These teams are old AFC Central rivals, and the then-Houston Oilers were the team the Bengals beat, 27-14, on Jan. 6, 1991. That was the Bengals’ last postseason win until last week’s wild-card victory snapped a 31-year drought. The Bengals have won five of the last seven between these teams in the regular season.
STATS AND STUFF: Cincinnati went from worst to first in the division for the fifth time. It also happened in 1970, ’81, ’88 and ’90. … The Titans won their second straight AFC South title and first No. 1 seed since the 2008 season. … The Titans are 1-3 in the divisional round at home and have lost their last two games as the top seed. They are trying to reach their second AFC championship game in three seasons and sixth in franchise history. … The Bengals last reached the AFC championship game in the 1988 season. They have never won a playoff game on the road, going 0-7 since 1970. … Burrow’s current streak of 180 pass attempts without an interception is the second-longest currently in the NFL behind Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (243). Burrow’s last interception was in Week 13 against the Chargers. … The Bengals haven’t lost a fumble since that game. … The Bengals’ five road wins in the regular season were their most since winning six in 2015. … Cincinnati became the first team in NFL history with a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers all under 26. Burrow and Joe Mixon are both 25, Higgins is 22 and Chase is 21. … Bengals kicker Evan McPherson became the first rookie in NFL history to make four or more field goals without a miss in his playoff debut. … The Bengals have scored on 86.5% of their trips to the red zone (39 TDs, 17 FGs). Their 63.9% TD rate is fifth-best in the NFL. … Chase caught nine passes for 116 yards in the win over the Raiders. … Pro Bowl RB Mixon ranked third with 1,205 rushing yards. … The Titans have won four of five coming into the playoffs. … The Titans are 8-0 under Coach Mike Vrabel coming off a bye or extended rest. That’s tied with Pittsburgh for the NFL’s best mark since 2018. … Tennessee went 8-3 against teams with a winning record, becoming the NFL’s first team with eight such wins in the league’s first 17-game season. … The Titans went 4-0 against teams that reached the divisional round, the best mark among teams still playing. They beat the Bills, Chiefs, Rams and 49ers. … Tennessee went an NFL-best 6-1 in games decided by three points or less during the regular season. … The Titans ranked fifth averaging 141.4 yards rushing per game. They ranked second in run defense, allowing 84.6 yards per game. … Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill threw for 3,743 yards and 21 TDs this season. He is the NFL’s only QB with seven or more rushing TDs in each of the past two seasons. … WR A.J. Brown led the Titans with 63 catches for 869 yards and five TDs. … WR Julio Jones needs at least 50 yards receiving to tie Wes Welker as the only players with at least 50 yards receiving in each of his first nine playoff games in his career. … OLB Harold Landry had a career-high 12 sacks.