By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Pro Football Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Vrabel asked his Tennessee Titans to play physical in their third game in 11 days. With Derrick Henry leading the way with a handful of rushing records, they did just that with a big victory to stay in the AFC playoff chase.
Now they get a weekend to rest before their final road trip of the season, and then another short week.
“They’ve done everything we asked them to do,” Vrabel said Friday on a conference call. “So, it’ll be good to get some time off, get some guys healed up. I have to do a good job of managing the schedule, and still getting us ready for the Giants, but trying to get everybody back that we could possibly get back to help us try to win another game.”
Vrabel didn’t have injury updates for any of the Titans hurt in Thursday night’s 30-9 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
After that call with reporters, ESPN.com reported tight end Jonnu Smith, hurt on Henry’s NFL record-tying 99-yard touchdown run, will miss the rest of the season with an injured knee. NFL Network reported right tackle Jack Conklin will miss a few weeks with his own injured knee.
Losing Smith would hurt the most. The Titans already lost three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker in the season opener, while veteran Dennis Kelly is in line to replace Conklin after coming off the bench Thursday night. Kelly has started nine games for the Titans over the past three seasons.
But the Titans are coming off the franchise’s best rushing performance in nearly a decade with Henry turning in 238 yards on just 17 carries for the best output in the NFL this season. Henry not only tied Tony Dorsett’s 99-yard touchdown run for the longest in NFL history, but he also took the franchise rushing mark from Chris Johnson — set against the Jaguars on Nov. 1, 2009.
The Titans ran for 305 yards in that game and finished with 264 yards on Thursday night. That topped their previous best this season by 100 yards and helped Tennessee improve to 5-1 at home.
Being able to run effectively in the cold of December certainly can help, and the Titans visit the Giants (4-8) on Dec. 16 before wrapping up against Washington (6-6) and Indianapolis (6-6) in Nashville.
Vrabel said the key will be consistency and running like that each week. Henry will have a chance to help do that after not starting the last four games. Henry now leads the Titans with 712 yards and a career-high nine TDs rushing, averaging 4.9 yards per carry after his record-setting night.
“His attitude and his preparation has remained consistent,” Vrabel said. “That was always good to see. We’ll try to keep that going, obviously we have to try to keep that going. Just the confidence that it had for everybody on the team (Thursday) night.”
Henry, who has been as hard on himself as anyone this season, said his concentration is on finishing runs and being efficient and consistent.
“I haven’t been that all year, and that’s my main focus from here on out,” Henry said.
First, some rest after the Titans moved up momentarily to the seventh spot in the AFC, just out of the second wild-card position held by Baltimore. But Tennessee still needs lots of help with four teams still holding tiebreakers, including head-to-head losses.
Cornerback Logan Ryan said the Titans are in survive-and-advance mode.
“Right now, we know what time of year it is, and we’re putting all our chips forward and going on to New York next week,” Ryan said.
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