If Derrick Henry's Tennessee Titans career is over, it came to a fitting end | Estes

Four rapid observations from the Tennessee Titans’ 28-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Nissan Stadium to close the 2023 regular season:

Vintage Derrick Henry returns

If this was it for Derrick Henry as a Tennessee Titans player, it was a fitting finale.

Cheered throughout by an appreciative crowd, Henry rolled through the Jaguars for a season-high 153 rushing yards. He carried the Titans to a satisfying victory to close this most unsatisfying season, knocking the Jags out of the playoffs and handing the AFC South title to the Houston Texans.

This was a devastating defeat for Jacksonville (9-8). And in Tennessee, it was enough to make one wonder where this type of performance has been for most of the season. Especially on offense.

This time, the Titans (6-11) were able to block better up front. They were able to get Henry going early, setting the stage for a vintage performance by one of this franchise’s all-time great players — who has so often done this against the Jaguars, his hometown’s NFL team.

After an 18-yard touchdown in the first half, Henry ripped off a 69-yard run after halftime, setting up a DeAndre Hopkins touchdown to put the Titans up 28-13.

If Henry does exit in free agency, there will be time to better articulate exactly what he has meant to this franchise. But on Sunday, this game’s primary takeaway was obvious:

Great players do these things in big moments. And Henry is a great player.

A nod to the Titans' fight

Wasn't just the offense. A shorthanded Titans' defense stepped up big in multiple instances Sunday. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was picked off twice. And when it mattered most in the fourth quarter, the Titans produced a goal-line stand, holding Lawrence short on fourth down as he tried to reach the ball into the end zone for what could have been a game-tying touchdown.

Then with the lead still at 28-20, the defense held up again for a fourth-down stop with 1:47 remaining.

And did you see the Titans' offense collectively push Kyle Philips to a key first down in the game's final minutes?

Look, this was still a flawed performance, with the type of miscues we've come to expect this season (see punter Ty Zentner simply dropping a snap before halftime to give the Jags three points), but these Titans displayed plenty of fight Sunday on both sides of the ball, which speaks to the coaches' success in keeping things together until the season's end.

One more time with Ryan Tannehill

Will Levis’ foot injury meant that quarterback Ryan Tannehill joined Henry for one final start together with the Titans.

They were introduced back-to-back by the Titans in pregame, making for a nice moment as the crowd responded in admiration for their efforts.

Both players are on expiring contracts. While it’s possible Henry could be back, Tannehill is all but sure to be gone, with Levis’ presence. So Sunday’s home game became an unofficial Titans sendoff for each, and the offense played like it for much of the afternoon.

It won't cure everything, but . . .

. . . winning this game was much better than losing.

And as Titans coach Mike Vrabel eloquently stated this past week, it sucks to lose.

Well, the Titans managed to not lose on Sunday, and they can enjoy that. In addition to the potential send-offs for Tannehill and Henry, this victory also prevented the Titans from finishing the season 0-for-6 in AFC South games. And it got some revenge on the Jaguars for the final game of the 2022 season, in which the Titans lost in Jacksonville and were eliminated from the playoffs.

Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at and on the X platform (formerly known as Twitter) @Gentry_Estes.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: If Derrick Henry's Tennessee Titans career is over, it ended perfectly