NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills traded the lead seven times -- the most ever in a Monday Night Football contest.. Neither led by more than a touchdown at any point.
As such, there was not a moment – until just before the final whistle, that is – that either team ever felt as if it was in command of the contest, which took place before a sellout crowd of 69,419 at Nissan Stadium and a national television audience.
The Titans trailed at the end of each of the first three quarters but outscored the Bills 10-0 in the fourth and rallied for a 34-31 victory. In so doing, they improved to 4-2 and upset a team that had won its previous four games, each by at least 18 points.
In a game with so many momentum swings, these are the moments that mattered.
The last stand: With 22 seconds remaining, Jeffery Simmons and NaQuan Jones got the best of Buffalo’s offensive line when the Bills elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Tennessee 3 rather than attempt a game-tying field goal. Quarterback Josh Allen tried a quarterback sneak but was stopped for no gain, and the Titans finally were free to celebrate.
In his NFL debut nearly two years ago to the day Simmons made two big plays in a goal-line stand that ended a similar all-or-nothing gamble by the Los Angeles Chargers. That took place in front of the same South end zone at Nissan Stadium where this one did. Simmons finished this contest with five tackles and one sack and enhanced his reputation as a guy who comes up big on a short field.
Six weeks into the season, half of Tennessee’s games have been decided by exactly three points. The Titans are 2-1 in those contests with the other two having been decided in overtime. Last season, they won four times in games decided by three points or less en route to a first-place finish in the AFC South. There is a long way to go in this season, but they have shown they will stay in it to the end.
Henry goes long: Fewer than four minutes into the second quarter, Derrick Henry started and ended the Titans’ third offensive possession in one fell swoop when he took a handoff going straight ahead, bounced to his left and raced 76 yards for a touchdown that gave Tennessee its first lead, 7-6.
If there was any team in the NFL that had reason to feel good about its chances to contain the two-time rushing champion it was the Bills. After all, they had faced him in each of the previous three seasons, and the best he had done was 78 yards on 20 carries. For his career, Henry had 50 carries for 191 yards (3.9 per carry) and three touchdowns against Buffalo.
The 76-yard run was Henry’s longest of the season and served notice that it was not going to business as usual against the Bills defense. He finished the night with 143 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries, a season-best average of 7.2 yards per attempt. Add to that the fact that Ryan Tannehill scored on a 4-yard run later in the quarter, and all of Tennessee’s touchdowns came on the ground against a team that had allowed one rushing touchdown in its first five games.
In the Nick of Time: The game-winning touchdown drive was an eight-play, 70-yard march that used up 4:56 of the fourth quarter. Three of those plays were passes completed to wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for 27 yards and two first downs. They were the only targets he had in the contest.
This was supposed to be the game Tannehill had his full complement of receivers available to him, and for a time it was. Then Julio Jones was sidelined once again by a hamstring injury just as he was in the last game he had played, Week 3 against Indianapolis. When he went out, Westbrook-Ikhine was the one who stepped up and did almost as much in that one possession as Jones did in three-plus quarters (three receptions, 59 yards).
Injuries were an issue for Tennessee throughout this contest, and Westbrook-Ikhine was not the only who did his part to keep his team in it. No one else, though, did so much in such a short span at such a critical time of the contest.
Flags on the field: After the Titans had gone ahead 34-31 on Henry’s 13-yard touchdown run with 3:05 remaining, it looked like disaster struck. Buffalo’s Isaiah McKenzie took the ensuing kickoff and raced 101 yards for a touchdown that would have put his team right back in front. However, a holding call against the Bills negated the return and forced their offense to start at the 18.
Penalties were not a huge problem for Buffalo in this game. They were flagged eight times for 60 yards and gave the Titans one first down. By comparison, Tennessee was called for seven penalties that cost 91 yards and gave the Bills three first downs.
Nissan Stadium, of course, is the site of one of the most famous kickoff returns in NFL history – the Music City Miracle – and it happened against Buffalo in a 1999 wild card playoff game. Had McKenzie’s long run stood, it would not have evened the ledger in the minds of Bills fans, but it would have helped even out things just a bid.
Short of the line: Buffalo’s opening possession lasted 13 plays, covered 74 yards, and took 6:19 off the clock but it ended with a 24-yard Tyler Bass field goal after Allen threw an incomplete pass on third-and-3 from the Tennessee 5. It was the longest possession by either team in terms of the number of plays and the second longest in terms of time off the clock.
The Titans defense set an important tone with that series. Buffalo’s offense had 10 possessions, crossed midfield seven times and on five of them made it to the red zone. Only twice did the Bills, who came into the game with the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, get across the goal line. Two other times they settled for field goals. Then, of course, there was the final drive when they came away with nothing.
Ultimately, Buffalo came up three points shy of its season average – and three yards short of the game-winning touchdown.