A difficult 34-31 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville puts the Buffalo Bills at 4-2 as they go into their bye week.
It’s a tough loss to swallow, particularly after coming off an extremely emotional victory against the Chiefs. The Titans dominated in big plays, and took advantage of the Bills’ slow start to the game.
As usual, we’ll examine what was most inspiring coming out of this game, what needs some inquiring, a player that requires a better performance, and the most irksome aspect of the game.
Inspire: BFFs Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs (And Swagger Bass)
Stefon Diggs has had a bit of an uncharacteristically slow start to the season. He had a big game against the Texans, but had yet to have a signature game this season that we saw multiple times last year.
Diggs absolutely cooked the Titans defense on Monday night, working the sideline routes, and drawing a critical pass interference which set up the Bills’ go-ahead score late in the third quarter. Diggs finished the game with nine catches on 11 targets for 89 yards and a TD while Allen finished 35/47 for 353 yards, and three TDs, while also adding 26 yards on the ground. Diggs and Allen put on a special performance, as Allen, in particular, was able to distribute the ball effectively to Diggs, Beasley, Sanders, and Knox all night.
Allen’s throw to Tommy Sweeney was special, and he fired bullets night long. When he had protection, he found the open receivers. When he was pressured, he was often able to make plays outside of structure. While Allen’s failed QB sneak on fourth-and-short ended the game for the Bills, he ultimately played at a high level for most of the night, and re-establishing a strong connection with Diggs was critical moving forward.
Bills fans should also be thankful for Tyler “Swagger” Bass. In a year where many NFL teams are struggling to find a kicker to consistently hit PATs and short FGs, the Bills have a kicker that is absolutely automatic from just about anywhere on the field. Only Justin Tucker and Harrison Butker can be trusted in the same way that Tyler Bass is, and it should not go unnoticed.
To be clear, the Bills absolutely, unequivocally made the right call on fourth down to try to win the game in regulation.
Do not let any media member, analyst, fan, family member, or drunk at the bar attempt to make the argument against it. Going into OT against an offense that gashed your defense easily in the fourth quarter, especially when your defense cannot establish a pass rush at all, is a bad decision. It’s not a neutral decision, it’s not a decision that needs to be overanalyzed by every talking head for the next two weeks while the Bills are in their bye.
Sean McDermott knew his offense could win this game when his defense was struggling. More so, prior to this most recent failed attempt, Josh Allen was 13/14 in converting fourth-and-one rush attempts, which is nearly a 93% success rate. In the NFL, you take those odds every time. In this case, Allen slipped, and the game is over. Weird things happen in football that affect the result of a play all the time, but it should never affect how one analyzes the process of the decision making.
In this instance, Buffalo and Sean McDermott were 100% correct to go for it on fourth down.
Require: Spencer Brown
Brown is a fan favorite among Bills fans for his personality, and being an aggressive blocker in the run game. Against the Titans on Monday, Brown struggled mightily to pass protect all night, and even had a false start called against him. His worst rep came against Denico Autry who came around the edge quickly, hitting Allen while he three the ball, causing an INT deep in Bills territory.
Brown, like a lot of Bills draft picks in the McDermott-Beane era, is a raw, talented athlete that needs to be developed into an NFL starter. Brown has been thrust into the starting position due to the struggles of Cody Ford, and shifting starting RT Daryl Williams to RG. Regardless of the circumstances, Brown is the starter at RT now, and he absolutely needs to play better to keep Josh Allen clean in the pocket.
Irk: Big plays & pass rush inconsistency
The Titans were in this game largely because they made big plays and capitalized on red-zone trips in the first half. Henry had a couple of big runs, but was largely held in check for most of the game. But when those big plays are ultimately turned into TDs, it doesn’t matter how well most of the game goes outside of those plays. TDs over FGs, every time; the Bills had to settle for FGs early, the Titans got TDs early.
The Bills defense also struggled to get a good pass rush in the second half. Part of that was the result of the respect shown to stopping Derrick Henry on early downs, but in the fourth quarter, Tannehill had all the time in the world to throw, and had easy completions to AJ Brown. The Titans had given up the most sacks in the NFL coming into this game, and the Bills should have been able to at least get pressure throughout the game, especially after an injury to starting LT Taylor Lewan kept him out of the game.
Instead, the Bills struggled down the stretch, and ultimately looked worn out by the end of the game. An ultimately disappointing performance after the Bills spent so much time and assets in the last two off-seasons to improve this pass rush. Going into the bye week, the Bills need to find a way to get more consistency out of this unit, they cannot have one good game and one off game, especially when those off games will likely be against good teams in games that matter the most.
Buffalo now sits at 4-2, well atop the AFC East, and still in control of its destiny in the AFC. The Bills go into the bye with questions to be answered, but also plenty of things to feel great about. Josh Allen has proven time and time again that he is the face of this team. The offense can put up 30+ points against any team they want, even when they’re struggling early. The defense, while they turned in a disappointing performance Monday, is still leagues ahead of where they were at this point in 2020. The bitterness will be there until the Bills win another game, but knowing this team, it won’t take them long to do just that.