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Buffalo Bills 31, Tennessee Titans 34: Rapid recap and notes

The Bills lost by a razor’s edge against the Titans

Call it what you will, a trap game or a bad matchup or a gamble gone wrong, but the high-flying Buffalo Bills went up against the Tennessee Titans on Monday and were grounded, losing 34-31. Both offenses matched each other blow-for-blow, but with the Titans leading and seconds left in the game, the Bills faced a decision to gamble for the win or play for overtime. They wanted the win, but Josh Allen wasn’t able to cross the line of scrimmage, and that was the end of the story.

The Bills started the game off well, forcing a punt on Tennessee’s first drive. Josh Allen and Devin Singletary matriculated the ball down the field on a 13-play, 74-yard drive, but the offense had to settle for a 24-yard field goal. The Bills forced a three-and-out, but then the Titans ran back with a three-and-out of their own, sacking Allen on third down to force the punt.

The Bills’ defense responded with an impact play—three plays after the Titans took over possession, Jordan Poyer jumped in front of a Ryan Tannehill pass and returned it to midfield. The Bills steadily moved downfield after that turnover, and appeared to have a touchdown when Dawson Knox took a handoff to the end zone. But Emmanuel Sanders was called for holding, a setback that led to the Bills settling for another field goal and a 6-0 lead.

It took one play for the game to turn around. Derrick Henry ran through a tackle, built up steam, and ran 76 yards untouched for a touchdown.

The Bills responded with a TD of their own on the next drive to retake the lead. Allen found Emmanuel Sanders on two catches for 40 yards, and finished the drive by hitting Stefon Diggs on a 14-yard pass in a tiny throwing window.

Another big play went Tennessee’s way on the next drive. Ryan Tannehill underthrew a deep pass, which set up a pass interference call against Micah Hyde. The ball even bounced off Hyde’s head, and Julio Jones tracked it and caught it for a 48-yard gain going out of bounds. Buffalo’s defense snuffed out the next series, but it still led to a field goal. Tennessee caught another break on the next play from scrimmage, with Josh Allen hit as he was throwing a pass. The wobbly ball landed in the arms of Kevin Byard, who returned it to the 11-yard line. Two plays later, Tannehill ran the ball in to give the Titans the 17-13 lead.

With four minutes left in the half, the Bills weren’t ready to fold. They held the ball for a 10-play, 75-yard drive. Even a false start on 3rd & 7 didn’t stop them, as Allen found a wide open Cole Beasley for a 29-yard touchdown to take the lead back. The Titans let the clock run out on the half, with the Bills leading 20-17.

Buffalo started the second half with Allen under pressure, but finding open receivers. But once they reached the Tennessee 34-yard line, the Titans locked down their coverage. The Bills turned to Tyler Bass again, and he delivered a 52-yard field goal. The Titans responded with their first sustained touchdown drive of the game, moving 87 yards on 12 plays. Henry slammed in his second touchdown of the night to take the 24-23 lead.

Following the theme of the night, the Bills battled back to retake the lead. The drive started with some Zack Moss runs, but the big play was Allen throwing a deep bomb to Stefon Diggs, triggering a defensive pass interference penalty on the underthrown ball. Allen threw a quick pass to Cole Beasley, who almost had a touchdown, then ran it himself for no gain from the one-yard line. On third down, Allen hit Tommy Sweeney in the back of the end zone for the tight end’s first career touchdown. The team went for two after the play, and ran the Philly Special to perfection. Dawson Knox threw to a wide open Allen and gave the Bills a 31-24 lead.

The Bills’ defense finally found themselves a moral victory, in holding the Titans to a field goal on the next drive. An offensive holding penalty killed a Henry run, and the defense capitalized to end it there. But Buffalo’s offense couldn’t respond in kind. They were forced to punt it back to Tennessee, who had started finding holes in the defensive zones. It took them seven plays to score a touchdown and take the lead, 34-31.

Gut check time for Buffalo. First, Isaiah McKenzie had a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown called back by a holding penalty. Then, Allen hit Emmanuel Sanders for 31 yards, and checked down to Moss for 12. He hit Beasley for seven and Gabriel Davis for 20 yards, and the Bills were 12 yards away from the end zone with 50 seconds to go.

But the Bills, once again, couldn’t find paydirt in the red zone. Zack Moss carried the ball four yards, and the Bills called a timeout. On second down, Allen tried hitting Sanders in the back of the end zone, but he was well covered. On third down, Allen took off and ran for the sideline, careening over a defender as he leaped for the chains. But the referees ruled him a half yard short.

Buffalo faced a 4th & INCHES, trailing 34-31, with 22 seconds left. They could’ve kicked a field goal and taken it to overtime. Head coach Sean McDermott chose to gamble on winning right there and now. But Allen’s QB sneak was completely smothered by Jeffrey Simmons, and that was it. Ballgame.

The Bills fall to 4-2 now, dropping into a clear second tier in the AFC playoff rankings behind the Baltimore Ravens.

Injury report

  • The Bills scored a two-point conversion to go up 31-24 at the end of the third quarter, and Dawson Knox threw the pass. But after the play, the Bills took him to the locker room with a hand injury.

Quick hits

  • In the first quarter, the Tennessee Titans tried either the most offensive or most insane tactic imaginable: recreating the Music City Forward Pass against the Bills. This time, the referees made the correct call.
  • Jordan Poyer landed his second interception of the year in the first quarter. The Bills still lead the league in takeaways, and they’re second in interceptions.
  • Heading into Week 6, the longest run the Bills had allowed was 18 yards. That stat was blown up Monday night, when Derrick Henry ran for a 76-yard touchdown in the first half.
  • That 76-yard run was also the longest play from scrimmage—run or pass—allowed by the Bills all year.
  • Though the Bills had a reputation for bottling Henry up, that didn’t happen this week. He carried 20 times for 143 yards and three touchdowns
  • For the 15th straight game, the Bills went into halftime with a lead. That’s a new NFL record!
  • Despite injuring his hand on the previous play, Dawson Knox gutted it out and threw a two-point conversion to Josh Allen on a trick play. Before the point-after attempt, Allen tried unsuccessfully to wave the play off.
  • Congratulations to Tommy Sweeney, who scored the first touchdown of his career Monday night.
  • Josh Allen was under consistent pressure all night. He was sacked three times, and the Titans landed eight QB hits in this one.

Next week

The Bills have a bye week. Next game is on Halloween, against the Miami Dolphins. Miami is currently 1-4, coming off a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.