1. Everything fans need to know about the 4th-and-1 decision
The game was hanging in the balance as the Bills offense stepped up to the ball on the Titans three-yard line. It's a situation that Buffalo has faced before, but not with the game on the line.
The call was for Josh Allen to sneak the ball over the line to gain a yard away on the 4th-and-1. But Tennessee defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons got good penetration as he won off the left side of Buffalo's offensive line, crashed down on Allen, forcing him to lose his footing as he lunged for the line to gain.
Allen came up short as a result and the turnover on downs with 22 seconds left in the game handed the game to the Titans 34-31 as Ryan Tannehill took a knee on the final play from scrimmage.
"I felt if we're that far from potentially winning the game right there it was the best thing we could do," said head coach Sean McDermott holding his thumb and index finger inches apart. "We hadn't stopped them on defense for a number of drives there in the second half really, so I felt like we could go and win the game right there, and obviously we didn't get it done. I believe in my players. I believe in our quarterback. So I trust my guys. Obviously we didn't get done in this case, but I trust my players."
McDermott was correct in his assessment of his defense. Not counting the Titans one-play possession with 40 seconds left in the half, they had scored on six consecutive possessions bridged between the first and second halves.
"I take a lot of pride in that and I love Coach McDermott for giving me an opportunity, and I've got to go out there and prove him right," said Josh Allen. "Sometimes the plays don't go your way. It didn't work out in our favor, obviously. I didn't have the greatest footing. It happens. It's a game of inches."
To a man Buffalo's players were totally in favor of trying to win the game in that moment. Converting on the 4th-and-1 would've given the Bills a fresh set of downs on the Titans two-yard line with two timeouts at their disposal down three points.
"Coach put a lot of trust in us on that play," said Mitch Morse. "I think that's what makes it a really sour feeling for especially the O-line. He put the fate of the game in our hands and we didn't execute well enough so tough pill to swallow, but it'll be a great learning experience. We move forward and march on."
"I mean that's what you want," said Cole Beasley. "You want your coach to have that belief in you and who better to have the ball in their hands than 17. He's the best player we got so nobody's mad at anybody for any calls. It just comes down to we've got to execute better than they do and we didn't."
"We trust our team. We trust 17," said Jordan Poyer. "I'm with coach 10 out of 10 times if he wants to go for that. We win as a team, we lose as a team. And coach made that call and we were riding with him. We just came up with a little short."
McDermott who saw a video replay before his postgame press conference provided his assessment of what he felt happened on the play.
"It just looked like there was some penetration there on the left side and then they pinched down," said McDermott. "It looked like he knocked us back a little bit there off that left side. So it looked like there was an opportunity, but I trust (Allen) and I'll trust him again if we're in that situation again. I'll take Josh Allen, 10 times out of 10. So give them the credit. They made the play they had to make when the game was on the line.
"I'm always going to believe in my players and our football team and our coaches and we'll learn from this and we try to move forward and get better because of it. That's what you do. It's a season of ups and downs and it's the team that stays together the longest that's going to give themselves the best chance at the end."
2. Points scored, but not maximized
The Bills came into Monday night's game as the league leader in points scored, and against the Titans the point parade continued.
Facing a secondary that was depending on inexperienced cornerbacks, Buffalo's passing attack effectively moved the football putting together five scoring drives of nine plays or more. Those drives led to 31 points marking the fifth time in six games this season that Buffalo has scored 30 points or more.
But Buffalo's offense knew they left points on the table. After going 2-for-5 in the red zone and losing by three points, they felt they failed to maximize their point-scoring potential in what wound up being a high-scoring affair.
"Just not executing, how we should," said Josh Allen, who was 35-47 passing for 353 yards and had both of the Bills red zone touchdowns on passes. "Shooting ourselves in the foot a couple times with penalties. I've got to be better for us in the red zone, so it's no secret 2-for-5 against a team like this it's not going to win you a football game. We go 3-for-5 we win that game. A lot of shoulda, coulda, wouldas. That's a really good team and they had a really good plan. On offense, they've got some really good players over there so you can't give them those opportunities and not convert. You've got to put six on the board."
It was two of Buffalo's first three drives where they settled for short field goals from Tyler Bass. The opening drive stalled on the Tennessee five-yard line on a 3rd-and-3 when Allen had to throw the ball away with no one open and pressure closing in. Their third series went for a touchdown on an end around by Dawson Knox, but it was called back on an Emmanuel Sanders holding penalty as he was trying to block for Buffalo's tight end.
The offense couldn't overcome the setback as the Bills offense only gained five of the 10 yards lost on the penalty and couldn't convert a 3rd-and-10 at the Titans 10-yard line.
And the third time they came up short in the red zone was at the very end of the game when they turned it over on downs on a failed 4th-and-1.
"Ultimately it comes down to execution and it starts with me. So I've got to be better with the ball in my hands and put us in a better position to try to score touchdowns instead of field goals," Allen said. "And again with the team like this how good they are, we know that's not going to cut it. So it's something that we've got to focus on and learn from and I've got no doubt that this team will."
With their 31 points, the Bills now have 203 in their first six games, which set a new club record. The previous mark was held by the AFL champion 1964 Bills. They scored 200 points in their first six games.
3. Diggs and Beasley resurgence
A week after contributing just three receptions between them for a total of 74 yards, the team's two leading receivers from last season rebounded in a big way against Tennessee.
Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley were targeted a combined 20 times on Monday night against the Titans, registering 16 receptions for 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"Seeing some guys get involved, getting Cole back involved in the offense, the way he played was awesome and we're going to continue to need that going forward," said Allen.
Beasley and Diggs were both instrumental in keeping many of Buffalo's offensive possessions alive. They combined to convert six of the team's seven third down conversions in the game including a 3rd-and-12 near the end of the second quarter when Allen found Beasley who slipped behind the coverage for a 29-yard scoring play.
Twelve of the 16 receptions by Diggs and Beasley either moved the chains or put points on the board.
As pleased as Beasley was to contribute to the effort Monday night, it felt hollow in a loss.
"I knew there would be a chance so that's really all you can really look for and there are still some plays that I feel like I left out there," Beasley said. "Me and Josh missed on a third down that was crucial earlier in the game. I was glad to be involved, but I'd rather not be involved and win than be involved and lose."
With his seven receptions Monday night, Beasley became the ninth undrafted player in NFL history to reach 500 career receptions. He now has 501 for his career.