When the Tennessee Titans travelled to Buffalo to face off with the Bills, something had to give. Both teams were clinging onto hopes of a playoff spot, with defeat almost certain to end those hopes. So it proved for a Buffalo team that not only had to deal with defeat, but walked into a changing room full of the knowledge that both the Patriots and Jets had picked up priceless victories.
A season where so little was expected at the start, and yet managed to promise so much after a Week 3 win against New England, has fizzled into something of an afterthought. Instead attention should turn to 2012, where with some key acquisitions maybe they won’t lose games like this one to a Titans team, that did enough without ever really excelling.
That has often been the case of this Tennessee team. Good enough to slow you down and put some points up, but lacking that cutting edge to put you away for good. They walked out with a victory but after looking in control for so long, and forcing key turnovers, it shouldn’t have taken a last minute stand from the defense to wrap up the win. Let’s look at some of the key performances from each team.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
He’s still got it
Earlier in the season criticism was quick to flow the way of Chris Johnson (+2.9). He held out for the big money deal and then failed to produce, with people quick to jump on his failings as a back. I saw things a little differently; sure he wasn’t playing to the level of season’s gone, but where people saw hesistancy, I saw the patience Johnson has always exhibited. Now, with a line that is blocking more consistently, Johnson has been giving the opportunity to hit the hole at the right time and pick up the big yards. His 153 yards were fully deserved as he forced five missed tackles and picked up 94 yards after contact, taking what his line gave him or turning nothing into something. His touchdown run may get all the plaudits, but it was making cuts like he did with 13:37 to go in the fourth that really impressed me.
Return of a right tackle
The Titans may have coped for one game without David Stewart (+4.3) but he’s not a player you’d like to go without too long. One of the more unheralded tackles in the league, Stewart returned to action against a limited Bills pass rush and did exactly what you’d expect; give up no pressure. Where he was impressive (and where he has struggled at times this year) was with his run blocking. The man from Mississippi State had no real problems whether he was taking on a linebacker (Chris Kelsay), defensive end (Alex Carrington) or defensive tackle (Marcell Dareus), constantly blocking them out of the play. Back in 2009 Stewart may have been the best right tackle in the game and it was performances like this that made him so.
Rookie mixed fortunes
If you start three rookies on defense, then you can expect some mental errors. No rookie was more guilty of this than Akeem Ayers (-2.6), most notably vacating his zone to try to undercut an underneath route with 6:02 to go in the fourth quarter (the result of the play being a big completion to Stevie Johnson). Still there were some more positive performances in the shape of the ever stout-against-the-run Jurrell Casey (+2.8) and Colin McCarthy (+1.9). McCarthy forced a fumble, recovered it and broke up a pass to go with the nine tackles he made, while Casey made life difficult for both guards, having more joy against Andy Levitre than anyone else has managed this year.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
When the Bills decided to pay Ryan Fitzpatrick (+1.6) so much money, they knew what they were getting themselves in for. A guy who wasn’t scared to make a tough throw, and a guy who maybe could do with showing a bit more caution at times. If anything captured the ‘Bad Fitz’ part of his persona it was the opening three throws of the game where he seemed to be doing everything possible to get intercepted. An out-route that was close to being an interception opportunity, a screen pass behind his receiver, and an underthrown in-route. As bad a series as you’ll ever see from a QB to open a game, yet those were the worst of the throws from Fitzpatrick. Afterwarda he made some excellent throws, including at 8:12 in Q1 where he moved out of the pocket to avoid the rush before hitting Brad Smith on a deep comeback. He wasn’t perfect and he was his usual frustrating self, but you better get used to it in Buffalo.
Where’s the pass rush?
So the Titans aren’t the easiest team in the league to pick up pressure on, that doesn’t excuse giving a sub par Matt Hasselbeck so much time in the pocket. The Bills managed just three pressures (including one sack unblocked) between them as they highlighted their need for a premium pass rusher. Dwan Edwards (-0.3), despite rushing the passer more than anyone, continues to struggle inside, while Chris Kelsay (-2.4) off the edge and Arthur Moats situationally just aren’t getting the job done.
More playing time?
It’s rare to speak about someone when they only play eight snaps, but given that Kellen Heard (+1.8) managed four positive plays on those plays he’s worth highlighting. As soon as he came into the game he seemed to have the number on Jake Scott, bullrushing him to create pressure, before beating him twice in the running game. I understand the Bills are committed Edwards and Dareus, but maybe it would be better for all concerned if they spelled them more with a player who looks to be more than capable. Time will tell.
– Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck only completed three passes aimed longer than 10 yards the entire game.
– C.J. Spiller picked up just 30.9% of his 123 yards after contact. Get that man in space and he’s hard to get a hand on.
– Who doesn’t like a good officiating mix up? With 6:22 to go in the second, after already erroneously ruling Chris Johnson to have fumbled out of bounds, the officials correctly rule the ball to be brought back to the spot of the fumble. Only when the ball is spotted it’s an extra five yards down the field. Thus adding five yards to Johnson’s rushing figures on the year.
PFF Game Ball
He took what his line gave him and more as Chris Johnson was the difference maker in this one.