The play that changed everything started at the Tennessee Titans’ 40-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
It was first-and-10. The Seahawks, as had been the case for most of Sunday afternoon, held a comfortable lead, up 14 points with 12:30 left.
Up to this moment, the Seahawks’ defense had done, let’s say, an admirable job of containing Tennessee’s bulldozer of a running back, Derrick Henry.
Up to this moment, that is.
Henry took a handoff and burst free up the left sideline for a 60-yard touchdown run, setting loose perhaps the single-most unstoppable force in the NFL and ultimately leading to the second-biggest collapse the Seahawks have had in the Pete Carroll era.
Henry had been held to 35 yards on 13 first-half carries, and the Seahawks defenders seemed eager to let Henry know about it. In particular, safety Jamal Adams, who has history with the running back going back to their days as college rivals, found himself face to face with Henry often in the first half.
You know the rest. Henry was indeed unstoppable after halftime. He finished with 182 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries, plus six catches for another 55 yards. It’s tied for the most rushing yards the Seahawks have allowed to a running back in the Carroll era, matching Adrian Peterson’s 182 yards in a 2012 game.
In the moments after the Titans’ 33-30 overtime victory, Henry skipped off the Lumen Field turf chirping about all the trash-talking he heard early in the game from the Seahawks.
“We came, we heard, then we conquered,” he said in a video clip posted on the Titans’ social-media account.
The Seahawks didn’t have a whole lot to say about what went on afterward. What can a train track say after it has been rolled over … and over … and over … and over again?
“If we give him a little bit of a crease, he’s gonna hit it. Because he’s that good,” Adams said. “I mean, he got rolling. And when he gets rolling, he’s dangerous.”
Back to the play that changed everything.
It was a simple but well-designed play. The Titans had seven down blockers, and the Seahawks countered with essentially nine defenders in the box — including cornerback Tre Flowers, who from the right side was inching closer to the line in what the Seahawks had to have known was a run play.
They knew, and they still could do nothing to stop it.
After the snap, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill sold a subtle fake well. With his back turned to the defense, he briefly made it look like he would hand the ball off to Henry with his left hand — signaling a run to the left.
Instead, Tannehill handed it off with his right hand. Adams was blocked out of the play by receiver A.J. Brown, and just about every other defender appeared to expect a run to the left — which effectively took them all out of the play.
All except for Flowers, who was left one-on-one with the NFL’s 247-pound rushing king.
Henry made a quick cut around Flowers, burst up field and weaved left around hard-charging free safety Quandre Diggs, who had taken an aggressive, straight-line angle toward the line.
Henry stiff-armed Diggs at the 25 and then strode free into the end zone from there.
Diggs popped up, took off his helmet and tossed it up the Seahawks sideline in frustration.
“Everybody just got really aggressive hitting our gaps,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Then he bounced it outside and we left a lot of space for the corner. You don’t want to (leave) anybody by themselves to tackle him.”
Later, Henry scored a 1-yard touchdown with 29 seconds left in regulation, leading to a 30-30 tie and forcing OT. He finished with 147 yards after halftime, and a lot of bruised egos in his wake.
“He’s a very talented, very special player,” Wagner said. “You saw that today.”