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Bills vs. Titans have been nail biters

Posted Nov 15, 2009

The Bills and Titans have not faced each other all that often in this first decade of the 21st century, but the matchups that have taken place have been memorable. With three regular season meetings and one controversial one in the postseason, Buffalo vs. Tennessee has had a bit more flavor than most intra-conference series.

Of course every Bills fan is painfully familiar with ‘Home-Run Throwback’ or as they call it in Nashville, the ‘Music City Miracle.’ For the Bills it was their last appearance in the postseason, but for the Titans it helped them to firmly establish roots in their new city.

“For this organization and this staff it was our first playoff appearance for as long as I had been here,” said Titans head coach Jeff Fisher. “I started at the end of ’94 and we went four years without (the playoffs) and it was our first playoff game and (that play) was clearly the reason we were able to win that game. I think that the play was unique and it propelled us a little bit.”

Fisher recalls talking to his team before the game as there were no more than two players on his roster with NFL playoff experience.

“I remember explaining to them the difference between the postseason and the regular season,” he said. “When the game was over we didn’t play particularly well. We found a way to win it. I remember both Steve (McNair) and Eddie (George) saying, ‘You’re right. There’s a big jump, but we’re okay now.’”

Of course the Titans went all the way to the Super Bowl before coming up literally a yard short from winning it all against the St. Louis Rams. But the nip and tuck battles between the Bills and Titans resumed the very next season.

The Wade Phillips-led Bills hosted the Titans in the season opener on Sunday night in a rematch of the controversial playoff game, that a majority of Bills fans still maintain was an illegal forward pass.

Only two  touchdowns were scored between the two teams in that season opener as both defensive units were dominant, but Bills all-time leading scorer Steve Christie put a 33-yard attempt through with 31 seconds left for a gritty 16-13 victory.

The shoe would be on the other foot three seasons later. In Week 15 of the 2003 season head coach Gregg Williams brought the Bills back to where he had coached under Fisher in an effort to save their reeling season. At 6-7 Buffalo was on the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention.

The Bills overcame an early six-point deficit and built a 17-6 lead early in the third quarter on a 28-yard fumble return by Pat Williams. But Titans backup quarterback Billy Volek threw a pair of second half touchdown passes and ran for another in a 28-26 win for Tennessee.

Drew Bledsoe hit tight end Mark Campbell for a six-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds remaining to cut the Titans lead to two, but on the ensuing two-point conversion, Bobby Shaw was unable to complete the catch in the front right corner of the end zone allowing Tennessee to escape with the win and eliminate the Bills from playoff contention.

As back and forth as the 2003 game had been it was topped by an intense Week 16 contest at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2006. Rookie quarterback Vince Young was tearing up the league with his legs as much as his arm and brought the Titans to Buffalo with playoff hopes on the line.

In a game that had six lead changes, Young was a terror. Though he threw for only 183 yards, Young teamed up with former Bills running back Travis Henry for 196 rushing yards, and had a 36-yard scramble for a touchdown to put the Titans up 20-16 at the half.

“I remember that game,” said Donte Whitner, who was also a rookie at the time. “I specifically remember him running a touchdown in maybe 30 or 40 yards right before halftime when he cut it back on to the other side of the field and scored.”

Buffalo’s offense rallied in the second half with 10 unanswered points in the third quarter as J.P. Losman hooked up with Lee Evans for a 37-yard touchdown to put the Bills ahead 29-20 entering the fourth quarter.

But  Young made plays in the final frame hitting Brandon Jones down the middle for a 29-yard touchdown strike to cut the lead to two (29-27) before putting together a field goal drive with just over two minutes remaining to put Tennessee ahead (30-29).

Losman got the Bills down to the Titans 28, but his pass intended for Josh Reed on 4th-and-5 was intercepted by Renaldo Hill at the Tennessee two-yard line with under a minute to play.
Young kneeled once and the Titans had a hard-fought one-point victory.

“It was a tough game,” said Young. “It was a fight to the finish. They were making plays on offense and we had to continue to match the success of what they were doing on offense. At the same time for us to finish the game was real big for us.”

All told the last three regular season meetings have been decided by a total of six points. And the Titans head coach has been there for them all.

“They’ve been good matchups,” said Fisher. “Buffalo has always been a well-coached team. They’ve always had very aggressive defenses with good speed and it seems like they’ve always had good receivers and are focused on a running game. I think the teams have mirrored each other somewhat in terms of philosophy and that’s led to close games.”

With two teams fighting to get back to .500 could another tight contest be in the cards?