Buffalo Bills Lose Heartbreaker to Tennessee Titans 35-34

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIOctober 21, 2012

Buffalo Bills Lose Heartbreaker to Tennessee Titans 35-34

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    The Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans engaged in an offensive shootout at Ralph Wilson Stadium today, with the Titans edging the Buffalo Bills 35-34.

    The Bills were clinging on to a 34-28 lead until Tennessee converted on a fourth down and nine yards to go from the Bills 15. Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck hit Nate Washington on a 15-yard touchdown pass with 1:03 left in regulation that gave the Titans the win.

    NFL fantasy players were projecting a big day for both offenses, and they weren't disappointed. The Bills defense was ranked at No. 32 coming in to the game, while the Titans were just above them at No. 30.

    The loss dropped the Bills out of a first-place tie in the AFC East, and the Bills (3-4) now go on their bye week. The Titans (3-4) have now won two games in a row and get quarterback Jake Locker back next week.

Bills Clock Management Issues Hurt Them

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    The Bills had one last chance to win the game, starting their final drive at the Buffalo 20 with 1:03 left to play. Buffalo had two timeouts left, and for some strange reason, it ran pass plays that were in the middle of the field that gained a total of six yards and two yards. So just like that, the clock was down to 35 seconds and the Bills were still at their own 28-yard line with a third down and two yards to go.

    The Bills wound up turning the ball over on downs and never picked up a single first down in the crucial final drive.

    Any experienced NFL quarterback or offensive coordinator knows enough to work the sidelines and preserve the clock. But not Fitzpatrick and Buffalo. The Bills hoped that a short dump pass to Fred Jackson would allow him to run the ball out of bounds, but Jackson was tackled in the field.

    The two-yard pass play to Scott Campbell was a ridiculous call at that point in the game. Just not the kind of play a team that is experienced in the two-minute offense would run.

    But then again, the Bills offense isn't exactly a master of the two-minute offense. In fact, the Bills hadn't scored in the final two minutes of any half in any of their first six games. They finally broke that streak when Rian Lindell hit a field goal on the final play of the first half today. Unfortunately, they couldn't duplicate the effort at the end of regulation when they needed to for the win.

Bills Offense Outplayed the Defense Today

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    Even though the Bills offense broke down when the game was on the line late in the fourth quarter, the fact remains that the Bills offense outplayed the defense today.

    Buffalo's offense didn't have to punt once today until there was just 5:40 left in the game. That is all the proof you need to know how well the offense played.

    The offense gained 22 first downs and 382 yards of total offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 27 of 33 passes for 216 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His QB Passer Rating was 109.8. Fitzpatrick was only sacked once today, but it was a costly one. The sack happened in the opening drive of the second half and Fitzpatrick fumbled on the play.

    Overall, Fitzpatrick probably played his most complete game of the season, but when it really mattered late in the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick couldn't answer the bell.

Chan Gailey Coaching Decisions Up for Debate

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    Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey was faced with two interesting calls today that were undoubtedly tough choices.

    The Bills took the lead 33-28 at the end of the third quarter when Steve Johnson caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick. At that point, the Bills could go for a two-point conversion to try to pad their lead to seven points. If they converted it, and the Titans managed another touchdown drive, the Bills would at least still be tied.

    Gailey, however, opted to go for the extra point instead. The Bills went up by six points, but never scored again in the game. The single-point difference proved to be the margin of the loss.

    The other decision was a battle of wills with Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak. The situation was the Titans were faced with a four down and nine yards with 1:30 left. The Titans were confident enough in their offense that they decided to let the clock run all the way down to 1:03 before they called a timeout. On the very next play, the Titans hit a 15-yard touchdown pass, and they never relinquished the game.

    While the Titans were letting the clock run down, Gailey must have thought about calling his own time out to preserve some clock for his offense. If the Titans failed to convert the fourth-down play, the Bills could still run out the clock and ice the game. If the Titans scored, the Bills would have had 1:30 left to work with, instead of just 1:03.

    Both decisions came back to hurt Gailey and the Bills. It is easy to point out decisions like this in hindsight, but they still need to be addressed because they were key factors in the outcome.

Chris Johnson Runs Ragged Through Bills Defense

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    The Bills run defense took a step backwards again today. Chris Johnson ran 18 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He ripped off a 83-yard run in the first quarter, where he ran untouched through the Bills defense. Johnson averaged 10.8 yards per carry. He also established a new career high by running for 139 yards in the first half on just nine rushing attempts.

    The Titans discovered that they could exploit the right side of the Bills defense. The Titans ran plays that attacked Chris Kelsay, Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard. Johnson was easily able to get through the first and second levels, but surprisingly, the secondary wasn't there to bail the defense out. Johnson proceeded to race down the length of the field without a finger laid on him.

    All told, the Bills gave up two rushing touchdowns to Johnson and two more touchdowns to Jamie Harper.

    Veteran Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was efficient with the football, competing 22 of 33 passes for 205 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The Bills continued their trend whereby if they get two sacks or less in a game, they lose. That trend we identified in an article on the Bills defense earlier this week.

Bills Running Attack Was in Fine Form

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    The Bills running back duo of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller had another productive day.

    Jackson looked like he was running closer to his form of 2010-2011 today. Jackson had nine rushes for 71 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Jackson broke tackles and made people miss today, which was great to see. Jackson also caught eight passes for 49 yards and a touchdown.

    Spiller had 12 rushes for 70 yards for an average of 5.8 yards per attempt. Spiller also caught six passes for 32 yards.

    The Bills were operating without two starters in the offensive line, as both Kraig Urbik and Cordy Glenn sat out the game. Chad Rinehart left the game due to injury and was removed by a cart to the locker room. Rinehart was replaced by Sam Young.

    The Titans were playing without starting middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, and the Bills were able to take advantage of the Titans' weaker backup.

Bills Don't Put Much Pressure on Aging Hasselbeck

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    Dave Wannstedt once again turned in a less-than-stellar defensive game plan. The Bills were only able to get to Matt Hasselbeck for two sacks in the game, and we already detailed how much yardage the Bills allowed to Chris Johnson.

    Tennessee was only averaging 70 rushing yards per game coming into this contest, but today, it gutted the Bills defense for 197 yards. The Titans hadn't scored a touchdown in their prior 13 games, but the Bills defense couldn't extend the streak. Tennessee scored touchdowns on its first three drives of the game.

    On the third drive, Tennessee was backed up in its own territory with a third down and nine yards to go. Instead of dialing up extra pressure to force Hasselbeck to throw the ball early, Wannstedt dials down less pressure, rushing three players and dropping Kyle Williams back into a zone drop read. Of course, Hasselbeck has all day to throw, and he finds a wide-open tight end Jared Cook for a first down that kept their drive alive.

    For the game-winning pass on fourth down at the Bills 15, again Wannstedt preferred not to put extra pressure on Hasselbeck, and this time, it cost the Bills the game.

Bills Secondary Needs Work over Bye Week

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    With the exception of Stephon Gilmore, the Bills cornerbacks play a mystifying technique. In any level of football, you are taught to turn your head along with the receiver so that you can see where the pass is. Once you see the ball, you have a better chance to make a play on it and deflect it away.

    The Bills defenders that are guilt of turning their heads away from the ball the most are Leodis McKelvin, followed by Aaron Williams. Today, that type of coverage was evident when Nate Washington caught the final touchdown pass against Justin Rogers. Rogers had no idea the pass was coming to his man, as he turned his back on Hasselbeck in the end zone.

    This has been frustrating to watch for years with McKelvin, but now it has spread to other young players like Williams and Rogers. Hopefully, these guys can learn from their mistakes because they all needed more experience to grow.

    There is a light at the end of the tunnel with Ron Brooks coming back off of I.R. He is eligible to play as of Week 9.

Brad Smith and Leodis McKelvin Excel on Kick Returns

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    The Bills special teams kick returning duo of Leodis McKelvin and Brad Smith had a solid effort.

    Smith had two kick returns for 109 yards, including a touchdown return of 89 yards. McKelvin had two returns for 75 yards, averaging 37.5 yards per return.

    The Bills opted not to have John Potter active today, as the team went with Rian Lindell for kickoffs. The decision didn't seem to hurt the Bills, as the Titans never really broke a huge return all day.

    The special teams gave the offense good field position repeatedly throughout the game.

Bills Now Go to Their Bye Week

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    This loss is a bitter pill for Bills fans to swallow. Instead of going 4-3 with a two-game winning streak heading into the bye week, the Bills now face the daunting task of coming out of their bye by going on the road to face the Houston Texans and New England Patriots.

    If the Bills drop both of those games, they would be 3-6 coming into the Thursday Night Football game against the Miami Dolphins in Week 11.

    Should Buffalo miss out on realizing the playoffs by one game at the end of the year, it can point to this game against Tennessee as the reason it fell short.