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Henry in Unique Group of NFL Playoff Ironmen

Derrick Henry was cruising toward a rushing title in 2021 when he suffered a foot injury that many thought would be season-ending. However, the Tennessee Titans star running back will be back in some capacity against the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC Divisional round on Jan. 22, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. While the Titans, and during their time in Houston as the Oilers, have had their windows of success, they often ended with disappointment.

Having Henry back could spur some change for the Titans, who have a solid defense and have taken strides under coach Mike Vrabel. But NFL stats have shown that getting a star player back in the playoffs has provided many teams with a boost, whether they ended up winning the championship or not. Here’s a look at some players who fought through hardship to come back and play.

It’s Just a Flesh Wound

Los Angeles Rams Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Youngblood played for 14 seasons and only missed one game due to injury during his final season in 1984. Youngblood played in 17 playoff games but only had one season where he got an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. Entering the playoffs following the 1979 season, Youngblood was playing on a fractured leg.

However, Youngblood powered through the pain and played through all three playoff games. He recorded a sack in the Rams’ 21-19 win over the Dallas Cowboys in the first round and helped the defense shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC title game. While Los Angeles ultimately lost 31-19 in the Super Bowl XIV to Pittsburgh, the Rams had the lead 19-17 after three quarters. Youngblood finished his career with 151.5 sacks but was ultimately known for his toughness.

An ACL Tear Isn’t That Bad

Long before Rod Woodson was known for his longevity, he was known for his grit. Woodson, who played from 1997-2003 in a career that spent ten years in Pittsburgh, made a remarkable turnaround during the 1995 season. In the season opener against Detroit, Woodson tore his ACL trying to help tackle running back Barry Sanders.

With the Steelers starting the season 3-4, it appeared the season was lost for Pittsburgh. However, the Steelers ran off an eight-game win streak to win the AFC Central and grab the No. 2 seed in the AFC. When Pittsburgh ended up meeting Dallas in Super Bowl XXX, Woodson returned to play in the game. While he didn’t make the stat sheet, Woodson became the first player in NFL history to return from an ACL tear in the same season. He would finish his career with 71 interceptions and reach the Hall of Fame.

Woodson would go on to win the Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.

So That’s How He Handles Having So Many Kids

Philip Rivers, despite his gaudy 63,440 career passing yards and 421 touchdowns, never made the Super Bowl. But few would ever question retired San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers quarterback’s toughness. In the playoffs following the 2007 NFL season, Rivers had the Wild Card Chargers on a collision course with the Super Bowl. San Diego beat Tennessee in the first round before upsetting the Colts 28-24 in the Divisional Round.

However, in the game against Indianapolis, Rivers suffered a torn ACL and meniscus. Despite the pain, Rivers decided to play in the only AFC Championship of his career against the undefeated New England Patriots. There would be no Cinderella story, however, against New England.

Rivers completed 19-of-37 passes for 211 yards and was intercepted twice. Despite this, and the fact San Diego were 14-point underdogs, the Chargers actually scored first on a 26-yard Nate Kaeding field goal in the first quarter. Kaeding would kick three more field goals, the last of which cut the New England lead to 14-12 with 8:36 left in the third quarter.

The Patriots would put the game away early in the fourth quarter on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Wes Welker. San Diego would lose 21-12, covering the spread but keeping the Chargers out of the Super Bowl. New England would see its undefeated season spoiled two weeks later by the upstart New York Giants.

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