Titans stave off Bills, 23-17

Behind the productive running of Chris Johnson, the Tennessee Titans today took a first-half lead and held on defeat the Buffalo Bills, 23-17.

The Titans opened to scoring on their first possession, after a Buffalo three-and-out and a long Marc Mariani punt return gave them the ball in Bills territory. They then actually managed to move the ball 14 yards before Rob Bironas hit from 48 yards. The Bills answered with a score, albeit in slightly unusual fashion. After a couple third down conversions, C.J. Spiller broke free down the sideline for a big gain, but Michael Griffin poked the ball forward into the end zone and it looked like Spiller failed to recover the ball before it went out of the end zone. Chan Gailey challenged, though, and the Bills were awarded a touchdown on a reversal of what I thought was a close call.

The Titans answered quickly, though: Chris Johnson for 11 yards, Damian Williams for 16, and then CJ looked like CJ2k in taking a draw play 48 yards for a 10-7 lead. It looked like the Bills retook the lead after Spiller went around left end again for a 41-yard touchdown, but it was negated for holding on Cortland Finnegan, and the Bills would fail on fourth-and-three from the Titans 34.  CJ would make it to the end zone again the next drive, this time from four yards out, and also had the drive’s biggest play, a 19-yard run. Titans lead, 17-7.

The Bills would cut the deficit to 17-10 the next drive, with the key play being a well-blocked and nice run by Spiller up the middle for 25 yards. The Titans extended their advantage to 20-10 in the third quarter, on a drive that included a 21-yard pass to Daniel Graham(!) and a fourth-down conversion inside the red zone, and took their lead to 23-10 in the fourth quarter on a drive that included their first third-down conversions of the game.  The Bills cut the deficit to 23-17 on their own clock-burning possession that included two fourth-down conversions, and would get a final chance to win if they could drive 85 yards in 62 seconds but failed to make it to midfield, and the Titans came away with a 23-17 win.

Aside from perhaps CJ, this isn’t a game that will win many awards for effectiveness. In many ways it felt like a Jeff Fisher win, kind of ugly, kind of uncomfortable, not much efficiency, just enough passing, but a win nonetheless. Whatever it was, though, it was a win, and the Titans are now 7-5 and in the AFC wild card race.

After the jump, the normal player notes:

  • For the second week in a row, Chris Johnson ran like Chris Johnson c. 2009 and not like Chris Johnson ran the first ten games of 2011. Twenty-three carries, 153 yards, and the two touchdowns. Maybe I should’ve announced I was giving up on him a lot earlier.
  • Damian Williams tied for the lead with four catches and did lead the team with 62 yards. You could argue he had a good game. You could also he had a bad game, as he was just off with Hasselbeck on a couple throws and should’ve had a couple more catches.
  • Nate Washington had a mostly quiet four grabs and also left and then returned and left again with an ankle injury.
  • Daniel Graham had a 21-yard catch. I know I mentioned that already, but that’s bizarre enough I had to repeat it.
  • Did Jared Cook play today? The only time I noticed him was on Graham’s catch, when Graham’s defender followed him as well.
  • Jason McCourty left the game in the first quarter with a probable head injury and did not return. He had a much better year than I was anticipating, and it’ll be a loss if he’s out for any length of time.
  • I probably should’ve mentioned this in the preview, but the Bills use an awful lot of 3WR/spread sets that sort of necessitate declaring personnel alignments and coverage more than traditional or, say, bunch sets. Ryan Fitzpatrick played around or slightly worse than the level I thought he’d be at. 
  • I’m of two minds about the fourth quarter. You’d like to see the Titans kill the clock in the four minute drill, but at the same time, the Bills don’t get the score to get it to 23-17 without being in desperation mode.
  • I thought Mike Munchak made some really questionable decisions today. He challenged a third-down completions on the basis of McCarthy and, I think, Finnegan declaring it was incomplete, but there was absolutely no replay angle that showed it was incomplete. Frankly, I thought his decision to go for it in the red zone up 7 in the third quarter was deeply questionable. You’re far enough out that the Bills are not backed up, a field goal is a high probability event, and going up two scores is key. The call worked, but I didn’t like it. I also wasn’t a huge fan of his late first half strategy.
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