The Jacksonville Jaguars had absolutely no answer for Derrick Henry on Thursday night. The supersized running back for the Tennessee Titans bulldozed his way past a team that prides itself on defense in one of the most audacious rushing displays in N.F.L. history.
The numbers were staggering. Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, carried the ball 17 times for 238 yards and four touchdowns in Tennessee’s 30-9 victory. It was just the 10th time since 1950 that a running back has rushed for at least 200 yards and four touchdowns, and the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry did it on five fewer carries than any of his predecessors while averaging an outrageous 14 yards per rush.
There were plenty of memorable moments in the game for Henry, but none topped the play midway through the second quarter in which he fought his way through several tackle attempts to match Tony Dorsett of the Dallas Cowboys for the longest touchdown run in N.F.L. history.
“Once I got in the open field it was going to take all of them,” Henry said at his postgame news conference. “I definitely wasn’t going down easy.”
The record-tying play was set up when Tennessee stuffed Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette at the goal line to turn the ball over on downs, giving the Titans the ball just inside Tennessee’s 1-yard line.
Henry, whose longest run of the season coming into the game was just 16 yards, broke left through the line and was met by the Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye just inside the 20-yard line. He dispatched Bouye with a vicious stiff-arm to the face, ran side-by-side with linebacker Leon Jacobs before simply whipping the pursuer to the ground, and then ran through a halfhearted tackle attempt by linebacker Myles Jack at around Jacksonville’s 20-yard line on his way into the end zone.
Repeatedly asked by reporters to sum up his feelings on his big day, Henry chose instead to talk of the stellar game-plan and execution by his team’s offensive line. He described a scene of pandemonium among his teammates on the sideline following the long run.
“Everybody was just going crazy,” he said. “I was trying to hit helmets with everybody, dap everybody up. It was a crazy play.”
Dorsett’s 99-yarder had come on Jan. 3, 1983, in a game against the Minnesota Vikings. Like Henry, Dorsett had to break a few tackles on his way to the end zone, and while the Cowboys put him at a disadvantage by mistakenly having just 10 men on the field for the play, Dorsett ended up getting a little help downfield from Drew Pearson, a wide receiver, who provided a key block deep into the run.
If Henry had just the 99-yard run, it would have been a memorable night. But in by far the best game of his pro career, he also had touchdown runs of 3, 16 and 54 yards against a defense that was ranked 16th in the N.F.L. against the run coming into the game.
Henry appeared destined for a fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter when the Titans had first-and-goal at Jacksonville’s 1-yard line. But Henry, showing some selflessness, insisted that the team let his backup, Dion Lewis, try to punch the ball in. Lewis ran the ball twice, losing one yard.
“We’ve both got to eat,” Henry said of his push to leave Lewis in the game. “I just care about my teammates, and I wanted to see him get a touchdown.”
The crowd, which had been chanting for Henry’s return, got its wish on 3rd-and-goal, with Henry jogging back onto the field to raucous applause. It was not to be, however, as Henry was stopped for a 1-yard loss on third down, and Tennessee turned the ball over on downs when Marcus Mariota’s pass to Corey Davis fell incomplete.
The Titans, who before moving to Tennessee played as the Houston Oilers, are a franchise with a proud history of great running backs, including Earl Campbell, Eddie George and Chris Johnson. Henry, utilizing the blend of power and speed that made him such a dominant force at Alabama, broke Johnson’s franchise record for rushing yards in a game while drastically outplaying Fournette, who was limited to 14 carries for 36 yards.
Henry, who had cracked 100 yards just twice in 43 career games coming into Thursday, nearly outgained the entire Jacksonville offense by himself, with his 238 yards falling just short of the Jaguars’ 255.
It was the N.F.L.’s first 200-yard, four-touchdown performance since Jonas Gray did it for New England in 2014. Jim Brown, the Hall of Fame running back of the Cleveland Browns, managed to accomplish the feat twice.
“Speechless,” Mariota said when asked to sum up Henry’s record-setting day. “I had a front-row seat to it, and it was awesome.”