Titans top Panthers as Derrick Henry reaches rushing milestone

AP photo by George Walker IV / Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill, left, congratulates Derrick Henry after the running back scored his second touchdown in the first half of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers in Nashville.
AP photo by George Walker IV / Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill, left, congratulates Derrick Henry after the running back scored his second touchdown in the first half of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers in Nashville.

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans have plenty to clean up when they return to the practice field, with too many penalties and too many mistakes costing them too much and too often this season.

Fortunately for them, their rookie quarterback has a two-time NFL rushing champ in the same backfield.

Derrick Henry ran for two touchdowns and 76 yards on Sunday, helping the Titans snap a three-game skid by beating the one-win Carolina Panthers 17-10.

"He wants to impact the game. I know that, and we want to let him," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry, the former Alabama Crimson Tide running back now in his eighth NFL season.

"Proud of him, the career that he's had thus far (with) 9,000 yards. You know, (we) need 10,000," Vrabel added.

The 29-year-old Henry, whose birthday is Jan. 4, became the eighth running back in NFL history to run for at least 9,000 yards and at least 80 touchdowns before turning 30. He also moved past Corey Dillon and Jim Taylor for sole possession of 17th all-time with 84 rushing touchdowns for his career. He is one from tying Marshawn Lynch at No. 16.

"I grew up watching Marshawn, admired his game, the way he played," Henry said. "Just a blessing to be able to get to that list and get to where I'm at. And just thankful for the people that help me."

Henry is the 38th player in NFL history to reach 9,000 rushing yards, and he now has 9,074. The list of 9,000-yard rushers with at least 80 touchdown runs that Henry joined already had Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Adrian Peterson, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson.

This was just the fourth game in Nashville this season for the Titans (4-7), who had played on their own field only once over the previous seven weeks. Tennessee, which hasn't won a game outside of Music City in more than a year, improved to 4-0 at Nissan Stadium this season.

"It's huge," said Titans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who had three catches for 49 yards Sunday. "It's the NFL. Every win counts."

Titans linebacker Arden Key had a sack and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, who also had one of four sacks by Tennessee. Denico Autry had two, the second just two plays before the Titans forced the Panthers to turn the ball over on downs with 1:55 left to seal the victory.

Vrabel gave Carolina rookie quarterback Bryce Young, the No. 1 overall draft pick, credit for scrambling around and keeping the Titans from containing him.

"Huge play there at the end to win it on defense," Vrabel said of safety Amani Hooker's tackle of DJ Chark for no gain on fourth-and-6.

Titans rookie Will Levis was 18-of-28 passing 185 yards and improved to 2-3 as a starting quarterback in the NFL. He was sacked only once behind an offensive line that included a pair of rookies, with left tackle Jaelyn Duncan making his first pro start beside left guard Peter Skoronski.

  photo  AP photo by George Walker IV / The Carolina Panthers' Bryce Young, right, congratulates fellow rookie quarterback Will Levis of the Tennessee Titans after Sunday's game in Nashville. The Titans beat the Panthers 17-10.
 
 

Carolina (1-10) started a three-game road swing by losing its fourth straight contest and falling to 0-6 on the road this season. First-year coach Frank Reich's job security already was in question with billionaire team owner David Tepper, but Reich said feeling sorry for themselves won't help the Panthers.

"You think somebody's going to magically fix everything? No," Reich said. "We lost a close football game today. These games are winnable. That message doesn't fly when you're 1-10, but I know these games are winnable, I know we have the players and the coaches to do that, so we regroup and get ready for this week."

That next game is an NFC South matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7), and the perspective on Carolina's struggles is even worse considering they play in what's currently the NFL's weakest division, where even a handful of wins might have them fighting for a playoff spot. The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, both 5-6, share first place in the NFC South.

Young threw for 194 yards against the Titans as he helped Carolina hold the ball for much of the second half, but the Panthers managed to cap only one possession with points. That came on the first series of the second half, an 11-play 67-yard drive that burned 6:54 of game block and ended with Chuba Hubbard's 5-yard touchdown run as the visitors pulled within 17-10.

Sunday's game featured two Heisman Trophy winners from Alabama in Henry (2015) and Young (2021), who went 23-4 in his two seasons as the Tide's starting quarterback. Losing this many games is different for the young quarterback — and painful.

"We all feel it," Young said. "Obviously it's difficult. We all don't feel great. We just lean on each other in these moments. That's really all we can do."

Tennessee never trailed as Henry's 1-yard touchdown run capped a 15-play, 91-yard drive that used up 9:36 of the first quarter.

The Panthers managed a 50-yard field goal from Eddy Pineiro midway through the second quarter to make it 7-3, and then their defense forced the Titans into a three-and-out series. On Carolina's next possession, though, Key sacked Young and stripped him of the ball, which was recovered by Simmons. Henry converted the turnover into his second score of the game, a 10-yard run.

Nick Folk put Tennessee up 17-3 at halftime with a 53-yard field goal.

The Titans remain last in the AFC South, but they have a chance at their first division win in three tries this season when the Indianapolis Colts (6-5) visit next Sunday. Tennessee will try to split the season series with the Colts, having lost 23-16 on Oct. 8 in Indianapolis.

The Colts are second in the division, tied with the Houston Texans and trailing the Jacksonville Jaguars (8-3).

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