Scully’s NFL notebook: It's Derrick Henry's time of year
The NFL has been diligent about educating its teams and enforcing COVID-19 protocols, and most teams have been able to navigate the difficulties of pandemic football.
I had no sympathy for Denver, which didn’t follow the rules and wasn’t competitive in a blowout loss to New Orleans in Week 12, because the Broncos were without their top three quarterbacks.
Let's take a look around the league in our NFL notebook.
Henry revving up for the Titans
Derrick Henry carried Tennessee to a pair of playoff wins last year, as he rushed for 377 combined yards against Baltimore and New England. His production is starting to crank up as the 2020 postseason nears.
The fifth-year running back put the Titans on his back in Week 12, when he gashed Indianapolis’ second-ranked defense for 140 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first half. Henry was also key to Tennessee’s overtime win over Baltimore in Week 11.
The Titans are in control in the AFC South, with a one-game lead.
With the combination of size, speed, and power, Henry can dominate games, and there is something special about the way he has tailored his skills.
Don’t put too much stock in his numbers from the first half of the season. Henry elevates his performance in the clutch. From Week 10 and beyond, Henry has rushed for 1,756 yards (146.3 average per game) and 16 touchdowns over the last 10 games.
That ability separates him from the pack, and Henry gives Tennessee a chance to beat any team in the postseason.
No position in the NFL has been marginalized more than running back in recent years, but Henry defies conventional thinking. He is the most important player for Tennessee.
And Henry is worth every penny of the $50 million, four-year deal he signed during the offseason.
Kansas City comes out firing
What a first-quarter explosion we experienced from Kansas City in Week 12.
Tyreek Hill caught seven passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the opening quarter, and Kansas City got off to a blistering start against Tampa Bay.
The game had all the makings of a blowout at intermission, but Kansas City took its foot off the gas in the second half. Tampa cut the lead to 27-24 with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, but Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes removed any late-game suspense with an eight-play final drive to run out the clock.
Mahomes connected on 37 of his 49 passes for 462 yards, and Hill finished with 269 receiving yards on 13 catches. Kansas City is unstoppable when the duo is in sync.
And when teams sell out to stop Hill, Travis Kelce steps in to fill the void.
Taking Kansas City out of its offensive rhythm is paramount for the opposition. Rivals must control time of possession, keep Mahomes on the sideline for long stretches, and also need additional good fortune to have any chance of beating the mighty Chiefs.
Week 12 mayhem
Las Vegas not only dropped from the playoff picture but must find a way to regroup after it was manhandled, 43-6, by Atlanta.
The Raiders weren’t the only playoff hopeful to sustain a disheartening loss in Week 12. Arizona, Indianapolis, and the Los Angeles Rams also lost as favorites.
Fortunately for the Raiders, they have the opportunity to get some momentum back against the winless Jets in Week 13.
Over the next five weeks, the wildcard race in the AFC promises to be compelling, with Baltimore, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and Miami competing for three spots.
Tampa Bay became a trendy Super Bowl pick, after it improved to 6-2 with back-to-back wins over Green Bay and Las Vegas, but the Buccaneers didn't resemble the same squad during a four-game stretch that included three losses.
They looked overmatched when they fell behind, 17-0, against Kansas City in the first quarter. Tampa Bay must work to get the offense back on track during its bye week, and the Bucs have an opportunity to finish strong, with Atlanta (twice), Detroit, and Minnesota remaining on the schedule.
The Rams (7-4) will travel to Arizona (6-5) in Week 13. The Rams exit a home loss to injury-ravaged San Francisco, and their playoff hopes rest upon Jared Goff, who needs to break out of a slump.
The quarterback has 10 turnovers in his last four games, including a costly interception that was returned for a touchdown against the Niners. After they kicked a first-quarter field goal, the Rams’ punchless offense went nine straight possessions without scoring in Week 12.
Arizona has lost three of its last four games. Conservative, late-game decisions from head coach Kliff Kingsbury cost the Cardinals severely in narrow losses to New England and Miami. The Cardinals need to stop settling for field goal attempts in fourth-and-1 situations with games in the balance.