Tennessee Titans running back Travis Henry missed the team flight to Buffalo on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Bills, he got to the game on time.
Returning to the place where his NFL career began, Henry celebrated his homecoming with 135 yards on 25 carries. He also topped 1,000 yards for the third time.
But most important, his performance helped keep the Titans' slim playoff hopes alive with a 30-29 victory that eliminated his former team from postseason contention.
"It was a lot of fun," said Henry, who would have had an even bigger game if a 60-yard run wasn't called back because of a penalty. "This is one of the games I circled when I found out we were playing Buffalo. It was great coming back here and seeing the fans and the guys I played with. To come here and win an important game and have a big role in it, I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Henry was never better than in the fourth quarter, when he gained more than half of his 135 yards during two scoring drives.
Trailing, 29-27, midway through the final stanza, the Titans could have put the ball in the hands of Vince Young, their rookie wunderkind quarterback. Instead, they kept feeding Henry, who had 41 yards on eight attempts during a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a game-winning field goal by Rob Bironas.
"I loved it," Henry said of the decisive drive. "I wished I had more situations like that. We knew we could run the ball on them so we wanted to come in and control the clock with the run game. The offensive line blocked really well. They gave me some creases and I made the reads and hit it up there hard."
The Bills have seen that movie before. Henry's toughness and bruising running style endeared him to teammates and fans during his four years here. He had back-to-back years of more than 1,300 yards, including a 1,438-yard, 13-touchdown Pro Bowl season in 2002.
Despite Henry's impressive body of work that included 3,849 yards rushing (fourth in Bills history) and 27 rushing touchdowns, the Bills drafted Willis McGahee in 2003.
When McGahee took over the starting job early in 2004, Henry demanded a trade after the season. The Bills shipped him to Tennessee for a 2006 third-round draft pick, which turned out to be cornerback Ashton Youboty.
After a rough first season with the Titans, Henry returned to Buffalo as one of the best running backs in the NFL. McGahee also had a solid day with 95 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. But he was upstaged by Henry, who ran like a guy with something to prove to his former employer.
"Coming in here against a team that basically gave up on him, I'm sure that's extra motivation," said Bills middle linebacker London Fletcher. "I'm sure any player would feel the same way going against a former team, a team where you left on not the greatest of terms. He played like he had been playing when he was here. He ran hard and made some plays in the running game."
Indeed, the Bills know what Henry is about. He's a physical, tackle-busting runner who is blessed with the strength, power and balance to gain additional yards after contact.
There were several runs where he blasted through a Bills defender. He also displayed an explosive burst through the hole.
And when the Titans needed him most in the fourth quarter, he just wouldn't be denied.
"He's strong and heavy and powerful and hard to get down," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "He's always been that way throughout his career. He was just so excited about playing all week coming off the ankle injury. You can't say enough about him. He had a tremendous effort. There were a lot of people on the line of scrimmage today and that's hard to run against. But we found a way to do it."
Henry had to find his own way to Buffalo on Saturday. He said the team usually leaves for road games at 2:30 p.m. Unbeknownst to him, the departure time was moved up an hour. As a result, he had to take a commercial flight that got him here around 9:30 p.m.
"He never telephoned to find the hotel," Fisher said. "Obviously, he knows his way around here."
The way Henry played Sunday, he hasn't forgotten his way around Ralph Wilson Stadium, either.