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Historically speaking: Jaguars-Titans, A Monstrous Run

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Jacksonville Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard (42), defensive end Dawuane Smoot (94) and linebacker Myles Jack (44) set up for a play during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

JACKSONVILLE – The Tennessee Titans long have been the Jaguars' nemesis.

The team that beat the Jaguars in their first game in the 1995 Inaugural Season and then sent them packing a week before the Super Bowl following the 1999 season, the Titans always seem ready to ruin the Jaguars' day.

A glance at the overall series shows the Titans with a 31-21 record, but not long ago it was 23-20 – with the teams splitting almost every season between 2004 and 2016. Then, something changed.

Something big.

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Yulee's Derrick Henry was the Titans' second-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. While the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner for Alabama was slow to get rolling as an NFL running back as he learned power alone wouldn't translate his enormous success from Saturday to Sunday, it was only a matter of time before he figured it out.

Henry rushed for only 60 yards in his first game against the Jaguars and 13 in his second. He was more of a factor in a 37-16 Titans victory in Jacksonville in Week 2 of the 2017 season, averaging 6.6 yards a carry and running downhill all afternoon against a defense that would finish the season near the top of the statistical charts.

But it was in 2018 that he really began to put it all together. That season, the Yulee Bulldozer – as he's known in these parts – took over the starters' duties. In concert with then-Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and then-Titans offensive coordinator Matt LeFleur, he began a new career phase that has him looking like a Hall of Famer.

That season in the first meeting between the two teams, Henry rushed for 3.2 yards per carry in a 9-6 victory in in Jacksonville. But on a cold Thursday night in December at Nissan Stadium, Henry flipped the switch with a monstrous run.

The Titans led 7-2 midway through the second quarter after a muffed punt gave the Jaguars a safety. The ensuing free kick gave the Jaguars the ball near midfield, and the Jaguars and running back Leonard Fournette pounded to a first-and-goal at the Titans 3-yard line. Three runs by Fournette and an incomplete pass by quarterback Cody Kessler gave the Titans a first down at their 1.

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The decision to go for it felt like the right one for a Jaguars team that was 1-7 in its last eight games. They had the Titans pinned deep, so the odds were strong that they could get the ball back in decent field position to try again. Until Henry took the ball on first and ten.

Eighteen seconds later, he was standing in the opposite end zone with an NFL-record-tying-99-yard touchdown run and numerous defenders on the ground. The rout was on.

Henry only rushed 17 times that evening, but finished with touchdown runs of 3, 99, 16 and 54 yards on his way to a 238-yard evening in which he averaged 14 yards per carry. But that one run has set the tone for the series ever since.

Henry in 2019 led the NFL with 1,540 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. He did another number on the Jaguars that season at Nissan Stadium, rushing for 159 yards that included a 74-yard run and two touchdowns.

In 2020, he took his game to another level, leading the league for a second consecutive season with 2,027 yards rushing and finishing as the eighth running back in NFL history with more than 2,000 yards rushing in a season. Not surprisingly, Henry was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He ran for 215 of those yards in Jacksonville and once again scored two touchdowns.

Henry in the last four seasons has made the Titans-Jaguars rivalry one-sided. But if there is something for the Jaguars to hang their hat on, it's this. In the teams' first meeting in each of those four seasons, Henry has managed just 70 yards per game and 3.7 per carry – and scored only two touchdowns.

But in the second game each of the last three seasons, he has averaged 166 yards rushing, 7.36 per carry and scored eight touchdowns.

Sunday's game figures to be, as Head Coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday, a matchup of "strong on strong." Henry leads the NFL in rushing through four games and has averaged 4.5 yards per carry.

The Jaguars have allowed 3.5 yards per carry this season, tied for fifth-lowest in the NFL.

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