Finally allowed to kick off, the Buffalo Bills were on the wrong end of a one-sided loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Empire State football’s propensity for tough-to-watch football finally made its way up to Central New York.
Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill united for six touchdowns, while their Tennessee Titans teammates countered Josh Allen’s two scores with two interceptions. Allen’s Bills were thus doomed to their first loss of the season, falling to Tennessee by a 42-16 final at Nissan Stadium. It was safe to say that the Titans (4-0) took full advantage of the 16 days of rest brought upon by positive tests for COVID-19.
How did the undefeated trek of the Bills (4-1) come to an unceremonious end in the Music City? ESM highlights four plays that shaped Buffalo’s present and future, for better or worse, over a rare Tuesday night excursion…
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 13, 2020
1st Quarter: A Good Return
Andre Roberts has the initials “WR” next to his name on the official roster, but it’s safe to say that he has made a far bigger name for himself by removing the W and changing the meaning of the R…in other words, he’s a returner. But Tuesday saw Roberts get plenty of snaps on offense, particularly in the early going. Roberts looked out of place on the first drive, as his would-be reception became a tip into the hands of Malcolm Butler, whose interception set up the first Tennessee score of the day.
Roberts, however, made up for the gaffe on Buffalo’s next possession, a rare point in the game where they looked like the Bills of September if only for a short while. Facing 3rd and 15 at the cusp of the Tennessee red zone, an illegal shift penalty nullified a Buffalo touchdown. An Allen rollout, however, found Roberts at the edge of the sidelines, as his tiptoe catch was the last of four third-down conversions the Bills earned on their way to the end zone. Two plays later, Allen hooked up with Isaiah McKenzie to tie the game.
2nd Quarter: PI on the Case
Penalties were a major problem for the Bills on Tuesday. The Bills doubled their average penalty tally from the first four games, drawing ten flags over the course of the evening. While the infractions were mostly minor, the lost yardage reaching 56, the numbers taken turned out to be vital in the long runs.
Buffalo’s most costly penalty came in the late stages of the first half. Corey Bojorquez “saved” the season by following up a three-and-out with a punt that situated the Titans at their own 10. Tennessee, however, embarked on a methodic drive that reached Buffalo territory. Bills penalties on rare Tennessee third downs allowed the drive to stay alive. Josh Norman was called for a seven-yard pass interference at the 35, while Jerry Hughes jumped offside on third-and-four at the 22 (though it was declined after the Titans got the first down anyway). Tannehill could score from 10 yards out after the Hughes infraction to permanently set momentum in the Nashville corner, creating a 21-10 halftime lead.
Malcolm Butler almost took his second INT to the crib! 😳
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 14, 2020
3rd Quarter: The Butler Did It
Enough can’t be said about the progress Allen has shown in his third season under Buffalo center, but Tuesday showed some troubling flashbacks to his turnover-laden rookie season. Allen wasn’t afraid to take some risks, but some of those proved costly, like an underthrown cross-body pass intended for Gabriel Davis that went right into the hands of Butler, who broke out of an attempt Cole Beasley tackle to take it back to the Buffalo red zone.
From this brutal evening comes a huge opportunity for Allen. This is the first time both he and his team is facing major adversity in his junior season, and the chance to redeem themselves comes against the defending champion Chiefs on Monday. A true test awaits to see just how much he has learned.
4th Quarter: Five From New York
There were no truly dangerous or egregious penalties on the Buffalo end…no ridiculous roughing the passers, no late hits, no spot-of-the-foul pass interference calls that set the Titans up deep in opposing territory. But what the Bills did in their misdemeanors was set Tennessee up with must-win situations that were far more manageable. They put in a touchdown (a 22-yard Allen pass to TJ Yeldon that capped off a 90-yard trek) at the end of the final frame’s first-third, and had a fighting chance down 28-16 as time began to wind down.
Tennessee responded to that score with a strong drive of their own. They reached the Bills’ 29, but there was still a chance to keep things situated at two possessions by forcing a third down. Seven stood between the Bills and more time off the clock…but they were all-too-happy to wipe away a majority of the deficit when A.J. Epenesa invaded the neutral zone. Blessed with a shorter distance, the Titans took advantage with a seven-yard interior run from Jeremy McNichols that more or less decimated Buffalo’s will. Three plays later, a Henry score officially put the game out of reach.
The Bills return to action next Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs (5 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network)
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags