Derrick Henry hopes to make a triumphant return as the top-seeded Tennessee Titans host the upstart Cincinnati Bengals in an AFC divisional playoff game in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday.
Henry is expected to be activated from injured reserve and play for the first time since sustaining a fractured right foot on Oct. 31. Prior to the injury, the bruising back led the NFL with 219 carries for 937 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"It's been a while since he's had contact," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Henry. "We're going to have to do these things that come close to replicating what's going to be asked of him in a football game. We'll have a week of work, we'll see how he feels and make a decision."
Henry would love a repeat of his 2019 performance in the playoffs, as he became the first player in NFL history to rush for 175 or more yards in back-to-back games. He participated in a padded practice Tuesday and said Wednesday he plans to contribute, but to what degree remains uncertain.
Whatever I can do to help, I am always for it," Henry said. "... I am ready to go out there and play."
Whether it's Henry receiving the full workload or D'Onta Foreman tasked with carrying the mail, the Titans face a stern test against the Bengals' fifth-ranked rush defense (102.5 yards per game). Tennessee received a boost from Foreman (566 rushing yards, three touchdowns in nine games) to finish the regular season with the fifth-ranked rushing offense (141.4 yards).
"I think we kind of stuck to our guns, and I think the stats will show that," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "We ran the ball really well, even with Derrick out.
"If he is back (for Saturday), it'll be nice to have him back. But I feel like we've stuck to our guns and our game plan and we can insert him back in."
The threat of a viable play-action passing game should benefit Tannehill (3,734 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 14 interceptions), who endured a statistically mediocre season at best.
A.J. Brown was Tannehill's most trusted target with team-leading totals in catches (63), receiving yards (869) and receiving touchdowns (five) despite playing in just 13 games. The Titans have posted an 11-2 record in games in which Brown has played.
Tennessee rested last week with the No. 1 seed in the AFC, while the Bengals outlasted the Raiders 26-19 in the wildcard matchup in Cincinnati.
On the opposite sideline resides confident second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, who set franchise records in passing yards (4,611) and touchdown passes (34) this season while completing an NFL-best 70.4 percent of his attempts. Burrow fired two touchdown passes in his first career playoff start last weekend, leading fourth-seeded Cincinnati past the Raiders.
Considering Burrow is no stranger when it comes to competing for championships, a wild-card victory wasn't the end-all, be-all for him.
"I tried to downplay it and all that because this is how it's gonna be from here on out," Burrow said. "It was a great win for us. But now this is the standard for the bare minimum every year going forward."
Rookie Ja'Marr Chase had nine catches for 116 receiving yards in his playoff debut to help the Bengals secured their first postseason win since the 1990 season.
The Burrow-Chase connection has helped Cincinnati average a league seventh-best 27.1 points per game. Tennessee, in turn, finished sixth in scoring defense (20.8).
Bengals standout defensive end Trey Hendrickson's availability for this weekend is in question after he sustained a concussion in the third quarter against the Raiders. But Hendrickson was a full participant in Wednesday's practice, a sign of measured progress.
"Progressing through the concussion protocol in a positive manner," Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said of Hendrickson, who totaled an NFL fifth-best 14 sacks en route to earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Hendrickson's career-best total topped the 13.5 he had in 2020 for the New Orleans Saints.
Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou (knee) and wide receiver Stanley Morgan (hamstring) were limited in Wednesday's practice.
Tennessee defensive lineman Teair Tart (ankle) was listed as limited on Tuesday's injury report after sitting out the season finale against the Houston Texans. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins (ankle) missed practice on Wednesday.
--Field Level Media