It wasn't exactly the dress rehearsal performance the Bills were looking for in their third preseason contest against Tennessee Friday night at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills dropped a 28-17 decision to the Titans as they had a tough time executing on a consistent basis on offense and defense.
"We're definitely concerned," said head coach Dick Jauron. "We're definitely concerned. You always want to play better. There are clearly things we need to improve on, so we'll go to work and improve on them. We need to pick it up."
For Buffalo's starting offense it was feast or famine. They managed eight and six-play drives on their first two possessions, but one ended in a punt and the other with an interception. They were followed by a nine-play 89-yard field goal drive and a three-and-out.
Still without a touchdown in the preseason, the number one offense finally hit paydirt in dramatic fashion. After completing a difficult 3rd-and- 9 for 21 yards to Peerless Price along the sideline for a first down, J.P. Losman almost threw an interception, only to follow it up with a 64-yard bomb for a touchdown to Lee Evans. The three plays were a microcosm of the night, but Losman focused on the positive.
"We know teams are squatting on us and we're trying to be conservative, but tonight we called our big plays and we executed them," said Losman. "Now it gives us the confidence. We know we can execute them when we have to and it's backed some teams off us a little bit."
"It was just a play where we had great protection and we were able to just connect," said Evans of his touchdown reception. "We just finally got a little protection back there. He made a good throw. It turned out well."
Pass protection did have its share of problems as Losman was under pressure frequently with the Titans using their blitz packages liberally. Buffalo's starting quarterback took a couple of hard hits in the second quarter. On a 2nd-and-14 play at the Bills nine-yard line Losman was flushed from the pocket and took a helmet to his right ankle as he got rid of the ball. He remained in the game only to take a high-low shot from a pair of Tennessee pass rushers on the next series.
"That's part of the game," said Losman plainly. "These guys, our offensive line, they're fighting. The least I can do is stand in there for them and make a throw."
Establishing the run also proved difficult for Buffalo. Marshawn Lynch got nine carries in the first half and managed just nine yards as Tennessee's front effectively controlled the line of scrimmage and plugged potential rushing lanes. Five of Lynch's nine carries went for no gain or negative yardage as the Bills top pick often had defensive linemen getting to him before he reached the line.
"We've got to run better, clearly got to run better," said Jauron. "We clearly didn't run it as well as we'd like. We've got to watch the tape to go over it and see what were generally the problems."
On the plus side Peerless Price performed well opposite Evans with three catches for 78 yards including a 3rd-and-9 conversion along the sideline and a 56-yard hookup with Losman that set up a first-and-goal situation at the Titans eight-yard line.
Unfortunately a delay of game penalty, a short gain, an incomplete pass and a nine-yard scramble by Losman forced Buffalo to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Rian Lindell.
Defensively Buffalo had more than their share of missed tackles as Titans' ballcarriers bounced off would-be tacklers for extra yardage. At times Buffalo's defenders looked too anxious to make the play and wound up off balance to make a sure tackle.
Buffalo's head coach was visibly perturbed by his team's lack of success in bringing Tennessee ballcarriers down.
"We were sluggish in our tackling," said Jauron. "We work on form every day in our individual drills. This is our third exhibition game."
"We have to do better as a defensive unit," said Angelo Crowell. "We have to get more three and outs and get the ball back to the offense. We are keeping points off the board, but as a unit we have to come out here and stop teams on third down to be successful."
The pass defense also gave up some big gainers to Vince Young and company.
"We were up and down," admitted Keith Ellison. "We had a couple of good series in there and a couple of bad ones. We have to eliminate the amount of yards we're giving up. We have to get that ironed out."
Even special teams, which is usually very consistent in its play, had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown by Roscoe Parrish called back by a block in the back penalty.
"Attitude and momentum shifts on certain plays," said Jauron. "Roscoe's was probably one of those. We just have to quit making those kinds of errors and trust our teammates. If you're not in a position to throw a legal block, clearly Roscoe can make people miss on his own. The deal is just to turn back up field and get another guy."
But first and foremost Buffalo's head coach wants to see his team set a tone right from the beginning of the game.
"We need to start faster," said Jauron. "You want to play good throughout the game, but we have to play better overall."
Buffalo gets one more chance to tighten things up for the season opener when they wrap up the preseason with a Thursday night road game at Detroit.