Here are my five takeaways from the Buffalo Bills’ 34-31 loss against the Tennessee Titans Monday night at Nissan Stadium:
1. This game will long be remembered for “The Decision.”
Sean McDermott chose to be as bold as he has been at any point since becoming the Bills’ coach in 2017. He chose to go for the victory rather than go for overtime. He chose to believe in the quarterback who has shown he’s worthy of that kind of faith (which also goes with the territory when you receive a massive contract extension).
No, it didn’t work. Yes, it’s easy to pick the low-hanging fruit and say McDermott should have had Tyler Bass kick a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the game at 34-34 rather than having Josh Allen run a quarterback keeper on fourth-and-less-than-a-yard from the Titans’ 3-yard line with 22 seconds left.
I’m not doing that. I am applauding McDermott for his guts.
“We felt we could win the game right there, and, obviously, we didn’t get it done,” he told reporters afterward.
McDermott clearly had to be thinking beyond the moment of the decision. What assurance was there that, in overtime, a tired and worn-down Bills defense that was having its worst game of the season suddenly would find a way to shut down the Titans’ offense? How much confidence could McDermott truly have in an offense that was having its issues with Tennessee’s pass rush and keeping Allen off-balance for much of the game?
Remember those first three Bills drives, two leading to field goals and one ending with a punt?
After four consecutive victories in which they mostly imposed their will on the opponent, the Bills found themselves in a game that required them to compete from start to finish. And they did.
Sometimes, it takes more grit than splash to come out on top. The Bills were at their grittiest Monday night, largely because that was the tone set by the Titans. The Bills never crumbled. They simply were outmatched on one play at end.
“Our guys fought,” McDermott said. “It was an intense game, like we expected, and our guys fought.”
2. Let’s not be too harsh on Allen or the offensive line for failing to get that first down.
Allen is 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds. He’s built for that situation. A lunge or a leap would have likely gotten it done.
Instead, he went low and tried to push his way through. He lost his footing and that, along with the Titans’ getting good penetration up front, caused the play to be doomed.
“I trust him,” McDermott said. “I’ll trust him again.”
He should. The coach also should continue to trust himself – especially when it comes to making calls with the game on the line – which likely will be the case.
3. What happened to that smothering defense we saw for the better part of five weeks?
It was nowhere to be found against a more powerful and physical offense that was able to pound away with Derrick Henry, the NFL’s best running back, and an offense line that consistently opened holes for him.
Henry rushed for 143 yards on 20 carries, an average of 7.2 yards per rush, and three touchdowns. He tore through the middle of the Bills’ D for a 76-yard score that gave the Titans a 7-6 lead in the second quarter.
The Bills weren’t much better at dealing with Tennessee’s passing game. Ryan Tannehill only threw for 216 yards and had an interception. However, he continuously found open targets in the middle of the field and kept the chains moving.
Tannehill also had the benefit of operating with minimal pressure. What had been a ferocious Buffalo pass rush didn’t sack him once.
Maybe the Titans, who were easy to write off as a team that could factor into the AFC race after losing to the woeful New York Jets, might be better than a lot of us thought. Yes, I have my hand raised.
4. Allen’s 353-yard, three-touchdown passing game was amazingly quiet.
Allen was far from spectacular. He was off-target on some throws and out of sorts on others because of a surprisingly good job by the Titans’ defense to take away some routes while also generating pressure. He also was pressured into an interception.
Still, Allen generally maintained his composure and made enough plays to put the Bills in position to win.
5. The strong contingent of Bills fans in Nashville definitely made itself heard, to the point Titans players were asking for quiet before going for it on fourth down late in the third quarter.
Good luck with that.
The Titans’ fans deserve some credit for making their share of noise and occasionally challenging the Bills’ ability to communicate on offense. However, the hordes of Buffalo supporters who made the trip merited the considerable national recognition they received … even if the flights home are going to be a whole lot quieter than they were on the way down.