Buffalo's offense put forth its best effort in weeks, the defense got another takeaway from Jairus Byrd, and they were in a tie game entering the fourth quarter, but the defense had no answer for league-leading rusher Chris Johnson, and a pair of Titans interception returns turned a close game ugly as Tennessee rolled over the Bills 41-17.
"We played hard again, not smart all the time," said head coach Dick Jauron. "We made a few too many errors. The two interceptions at the end kind of made the whole thing look significantly worse than it was. It's always bad to lose, but it wasn't good."
"What's new," asked Terrell Owens rhetorically. "That's how it been the last seven or eight weeks. We lose games in the third or the fourth quarter."
For the third straight week, Johnson provided a pair of touchdowns for the Titans as he had 100 yards receiving and 132 on the ground. His blinding speed enabled him to consistently turn what appeared to be short gains into big plays as he single-handedly kept drives alive for Tennessee. Johnson was the first player in Titans franchise history since 1961 to record 100 yards rushing and receiving in a game.
"Clearly he's a tremendous running back," said Bills head coach Dick Jauron. "His speed is so exceptional and he's got great balance. He accelerates so quickly out of there. The option adds a whole new dimension. The option play is really difficult to defend."
"He definitely has a good burst of speed, he has great vision and he can set up the blocks for himself, two or three men away," said safety George Wilson. "He knows how to manipulate the defender to get him to stop his feet which will allow him to get outside or force you to overpursue outside and he sticks his foot in the ground and gets north. He's a great all around talent. There's a reason why he's the number one back in the league and he showed it today."
The game was closer than the final score indicated. Buffalo overcame a 17-7 first half deficit to tie the score entering the fourth quarter. But the Titans scored 24 unanswered points in the final frame with two touchdowns coming on a 26-yard Vincent Fuller interception return for a touchdown with three minutes left and a 31-yard Roderick Hood interception return for a touchdown in the waning moments.
"In the beginning we just made plays," said Lee Evans. "We got down in the red zone a couple of times and made plays. That was pretty much it. Second half we really couldn't find anything, nothing was going, just didn't make any plays really. That's really the bottom line. We certainly helped them giving them a few picks. But it didn't come together in the end."
The second interception return for a touchdown came off Bills backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to turn the game into a blowout. Fitzpatrick relieved Trent Edwards who went 18-28 for 185 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Fitzpatrick was 2-7 for six yards and an interception.
Head coach Dick Jauron addressed the benching of Edwards after three particularly inaccurate passes in a row one of which was taken back on an interception return.
"There was some good obviously, but some things that were missed," said Jauron in describing Edwards' performance. "That's why in the last three minutes we decided to get Ryan out there."
When asked if Edwards would start next Sunday Jauron was uncertain.
"We'll discuss it as we go along," said Jauron. "I have to see the whole game too. Obviously from the field you can't see everything that happens and you get after the fact you get information as the game goes on."
"That's just the situation we're in right now," said Edwards. "We're 3-6 and we're not winning football games and the first person you have to look at is the quarterback. If you're not winning football games, you've got to look at the quarterback."
Tennessee first pulled ahead early in the fourth thanks to a grinding 12-play 56-yard drive led by the elusive Johnson. Tennessee's speedy tailback accounted for 34 of the last 46 yards on the drive including the one-yard touchdown to put the Titans in front 24-17 with just under 11 minutes remaining.
The NFL's leading rusher proved difficult to stop as he eclipsed 100 yards rushing on just 14 carries and finished with 132. He was also a weapon in the screen game as he had nine catches for 100 yards to lead the Titans in that category as well.
Tennessee also added a field goal drive on their next possession with Rob Bironas making good on a 51-yard attempt for a 27-17 lead with 3:21 left in the game.
Down three points entering the second half, Buffalo's rejuvenated offense got right to work, putting together an impressive 12-play 76-yard drive with Terrell Owens providing most of it on a 37-yard pass play from Trent Edwards moving the Bills into Tennessee territory. Rian Lindell capped the series with a 25-yard field goal to tie the score midway through the third quarter at 17. But the Bills would not score again the rest of the way.
Buffalo's offense came out strong off their bye week. Third down conversions were a major focus and the Bills converted their first two opportunities keeping a 10-play drive alive that culminated in an unexpected touchdown play. The offense finished 5-14 on conversions.
Operating out of a Wildcat formation, Fred Jackson took the snap, faked a hand-off to Marshawn Lynch and quickly fired a deep pass down the middle of the field to a wide open Lee Evans for a 28-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
"It was a play designed, one that we've been working on," said Evans. "I told him just to put it out there. It was just a well executed play. There's nothing more you can say about it. He did a good job of selling it and just put it out there."
It was the first touchdown pass of Jackson's career and first by a Bills running back since Nov. 4, 2007 when Marshawn Lynch threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Robert Royal against Cincinnati.
Tennessee answered Buffalo's opening touchdown drive on the next possession. A 19-yard catch by Nate Washington kept the drive alive converting a 3rd-and-8. Two plays later Chris Johnson took a screen 17 yards down to the Bills 28, before ripping off a 28-yard run for a touchdown to tie the score late in the first quarter on the very next play(7-7). Johnson benefited from a seal block at the second level and was off to the races as he went untouched to the end zone.
After tying the score at seven, Tennessee's defense promptly sent the Bills attack three-and-out gaining a field position advantage in the process. The Titans offense got a drive start at their own 47 and made quick work of finding the end zone again.
On their first play of the series Vince Young hit Kenny Britt deep down the far sideline for a 38-yard hook up to set up 1st-and-10 at the Bills 15. Three plays later Vince Young found Nate Washington for a 15-yard touchdown reception as he slipped behind a dropping Aaron Schobel on a crossing pattern. The drive took just 1:33 and gave the Titans a 14-7 advantage.
The Bills were able to cut back into a 10-point second quarter Titans lead when Trent Edwards went deep and connected with Terrell Owens on a 46-yard pass play setting up first-and-goal at the Tennessee three-yard line. After a false start penalty backed the Bills up to the eight,
Edwards hit Evans for his second touchdown of the game on a fade pass to the front left corner of the end zone to pull within three (17-14) midway through the second quarter. Owens and Evans combined for 54 of the 69 yards on the drive on two pass plays.
Buffalo appeared to seize momentum back completely when rookie Jairus Byrd made his presence felt in the Bills secondary again. On a 3rd-and-10 at the Titans 35, Vince Young threw into Buffalo territory, but his pass intended for Nate Washington was overthrown and Byrd came up with his eighth interception in his last five games at the Bills 36.
But Buffalo's offense couldn't capitalize as penalties bogged down a Bills scoring drive leading to a punt.
With the loss the Bills fell to 3-6, as Buffalo has now dropped their last two games. The Bills travel to Jacksonville next week to face the Jaguars for a 1 pm kickoff.