After both offenses had gone up and down the field all game long, it was a fourth-and-one stuff at the 3-yard line by the Titans defense that preserved a 34-31 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football at Nissan Stadium.
With 22 second left, Sean McDermott elected to go for the first down rather than kick a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the game and likely forced overtime.
Quarterback Josh Allen tried to dive straight ahead, but he was smothered by the interior of the Titans defense led by Jeffery Simmons, who got penetration in his gap on the play, as Allen slipped into his own man for no gain.
“We know when the quarterback is under center like that, we anticipate a sneak and that was the play I thought they were going to run and they did,” Simmons said. “I knew it was short. That was my gap and I was able to knock the guard in the backfield and I knew it was short.”
Simmons said he was not surprised that the Bills disdained the field goal to go for the win.
“We knew they were going to try to win the game, espeically with the quarterback they have. Josh Allen is a good quarerback,” Simmons said. “We knew they were going to try to put the ball in their best player's hands. That's just like what wse would do in putting the ball in our best player's hands. Josh Allen I feel like is their best player and it just to happened that our defense was a little better and we came up big.”
It was a night of big plays for the Titans, who were able to go back and forth with the Bills, thanks in large part to a big night from the offense. Derrick Henry scored three touchdowns, one on a 76-yard run in the first half to give the Titans their first lead at 7-6, and then scored twice more, including the game-winner on a 13-yard run with 3:05 left to play.
Henry finished with 143 yards on 20 carries Monday night.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was not sacked after having been taken down 20 times in the first five games, shook off a sluggish start to finish 18 of 29 for 216 yards. He connected seven times with A.J. Brown in the second half, as Brown chalked up 91 yards receiving.
“It wasn't always pretty, but we kept fighting, kept believing in each other, believing we were going to win the game,” Tannehill said.
Henry's first TD came on a breakaway after Buffalo had kicked two field goas to take a 6-0 lead.
“did you see how big my eyes got. The o-line did a great job of blocking. I just saw a hole and hit it,” Henry said of the long run.
The game see-sawed back and forth, with neither team holding more than a one-score lead. Buffalo went ahead 31-24 late in the third quarter on Tommy Sweeney's 1-yard touchdown catch from Allen with 27 seconds left in the frame. Buffalo went for two succesfully on Dawson Knox's throwback pass to Allen to push the Bills ahead by seven.
The Titans settled for Randy Bulloc's 38-yard field goal to pull within four at 31-27 before piecing together a drive that spanned 70 yards over eight plays with Henry's third TD pushing the Titans back in front.
Then, it was up to the defense to hold the Bills, who marched all the way to the Titans' 3 before Tennessee's defense stiffened with a goal-line stand for the second game in a row. The Titans had a similar stop inside the 5 last week against Jacksonville.
“It was honestly a message throughout the week. We brought up the play (last week) in Jacksonville when we got the goal line stop,” said safety Kevin Byard, who had his second interception in as many weeks. “When things don't go our way, just remember that play. It was crazy. We got another goal line stop.”
The victory pushes the Titans to 4-2 on the season and keeps them two games ahead of Indianapolis in the AFC South. More important, it gives the Titans a potential tiebreaker with the Bills for later in the year, if it comes down to that for playoff seeding.
The Titans have another tough contest Sunday when the defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs come to town.
“Tonight we're as high as we can be. Whatever that spring is, we're going to have to come back down to earth real quick, get ready for the Kansas City Chiefs, what they offer, find a way to prepare to win, get healthy and find out who's available,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “We're going to enjoy this, like we do. In 24 hours or less than that, we'll have to be moving on real quickly.”