In a loss standout individual performances aren't usually given the same weight as they are in victories. Such is the case with Bills running back C.J. Spiller, who had his first career 100-plus all-purpose yard game Sunday against Tennessee. The second-year back had 102 yards from scrimmage in the six-point loss with 83 of those yards coming on the ground. What's unfortunate is that rushing total could've been 124 and the touchdown total should've been two.
Midway through the first quarter on a 1st-and-10 play at the Tennessee 35, Spiller took a handoff off left tackle eluded a defender and burst to open space along the far sideline. Titans safety Michael Griffin in determined pursuit had a good angle on Spiller and dislodged the ball from the back's right arm at the five-yard line.
The ball bounded forward into the end zone where Spiller in a desperate leap pounced on the ball in the back of the end zone before sliding out of bounds. The play was initially ruled a touchback, but after being challenged by Chan Gailey was reversed to a touchdown.
"It really shouldn't have come down to that," said Spiller. "That was poor ball handling on my part because I looked at it on replay and I saw it low. I didn't give up on the play and I just knew I needed to get to it before it rolled out of bounds. I was disappointed I had fumbled, but I knew I had recovered it."
The 35-yard scoring play gave the Bills an early 7-3 lead, the only one they would have for the game. The Titans answered back with their prized back Chris Johnson, who burst through a hole off right tackle on the ensuing possession to post a 48-yard touchdown sprint.
Spiller appeared to have a response of his own when he gained the left corner and again bolted down the far sideline 41 yards for a touchdown. The only problem was a flag was thrown on fullback Corey McIntyre's lead block, which was ruled to be holding. The call wiped out Spiller's second touchdown of the day, a play that would've put Buffalo back in front 14-10.
"I don't know what the ref saw, but when you don't touch a person, let him spin, and don't even grab him… you be the judge of that," said McIntyre. "You can call it phantom or whatever, but I know that wasn't a hold. I feel bad because we made a big play. That was a big penalty and I didn't even hold the guy. When things are going bad, things are going bad. I feel bad for C.J. and my teammates for something like that."
"When I was running I saw the flag and that's why I knew I couldn't celebrate because I knew there was probably a good chance that something happened," said Spiller. "All (McIntyre) did was hit the guy and the guy spun past him. The ref thought it was holding and that was a tough break for us. It would've been a great momentum swing for us."
Sunday was Spiller's second week in the featured role at running back following the season-ending leg injury suffered by Fred Jackson against Miami. By the tail end of the Jets game Spiller felt he was finding his rhythm again.
"I was starting to get in a good groove and in sync with how the offensive line was blocking," he said. "It felt natural, maybe not like my Clemson days, but just normal. That's what they drafted me for to try to make big plays."
Spiller rolled that into the first half of Sunday's game posting 11 carries for 80 yards (7.3 avg).
"The offensive line and the fullback and tight ends, everybody was doing a good job of blocking guys up," he said. "As a running back you always know you're going to have to make somebody miss and I was able to do that early on."
The game plan had Spiller heavily involved throughout. That's why Tashard Choice was used on short yardage in an effort to keep the former top pick fresh.
Come the second half however, the Bills offensive inefficiency in general compromised that game plan. Scott Chandler was stripped of the ball on Buffalo's first play of the third quarter turning it over to Tennessee. That led to a field goal drive, which increased the Titans lead to 10.
On the Bills second possession of the third quarter, Spiller was dropped for a one-yard loss, then caught a six-yard pass on second down. But on third down Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked forcing Buffalo to punt. From there Spiller would have just two carries for four yards the rest of the game.
"We tried to do some run stuff and do a screen or two to C.J. and let him make some plays," said Gailey of his second half play calling efforts. "We weren't doing anything. Then it got to where we were two touchdowns back and we started throwing it. I would've liked to run the ball a little bit more."
Fitzpatrick targeted Spiller twice in the passing game in the second half. The first on a 2nd-and-2 at the Bills own 28, but the back could not handle the throw. Later on that same drive, on a 3rd-and-goal from the two-yard line Fitzpatrick tried to lace a pass to Spiller racing across the back of the end zone, but their timing was off forcing Spiller to leap fully extended in an effort to make the catch. The pass glanced off his hands falling incomplete.
"I had some drops and just got to concentrate from an overall team standpoint," said Spiller. "It was just tough, but we'll get together and we'll bring in those catches."
"It was a tough one," said Fitzpatrick. "We knew going in we thought we had a good chance to run the ball. And C.J. did a great job of doing that in the first half."
The score on the board however, dictated that the Bills pass their way back into the game in the second half.
On the positive side of the ledger Spiller showed the big play ability Sunday that made him a star at Clemson where 21 of his touchdowns went for 50 yards or more.
"My first start last year I was doing a lot of thinking in the game and really it didn't let my physical ability take over," he said. "I was concerned about should I go outside? Should I go inside? Now I'm just worried about playing football and just playing the way that I always play."