Sal's Sticks: Titans at Bills

The Bills win with a field goal on the final play of the game

Sal Capaccio
October 07, 2018 - 9:01 pm

Photo: Rich Barnes - USA TODAY Sports

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Finally. A game that wasn’t over by the fourth quarter, much less halftime. I had forgotten what it was like to be a broadcaster on the radio call of a close contest, but that reminder felt really good. Low scoring, but intense. High drama at New Era Field resulted in the Buffalo Bills pulling one out on a last-play field goal and beating the Tennessee Titans 13–12.

So we’ll start with who was ahead of the sticks:

 

AHEAD OF THE STICKS

  • Defense, defense, defense

The entire unit did exactly what’s needed for this team to have to win football games. The formula right now is play really good (maybe even extraordinary) defense, get turnovers, and give the offense opportunities to capitalize. That’s exactly what the defense did against the Titans. They took the ball away three times and never allowed them into their end zone, only giving up four field goals on the day. There isn’t much more you can ask an NFL defense to do on any given Sunday than what the Bills did against Tennessee.
 

  • CB Tre’Davious White

Once again, White did a spectacular job on the opposing team’s best wide receiver. Corey Davis not only had only four catches the entire game, but only six targets. Quarterback Marcus Mariota hardly even looked his way and had to throw to others often. White is truly becoming a shutdown corner in the league.
 

  • RBs Chris Ivory and LeSean McCoy

Ivory got the tough yards. He didn’t wind up with great numbers overall, but he was at his best when his team needed him most, especially on the final drive. In fact, of his 14 runs, nine either resulted in a first down or were on final drive of the game where he collected 22 of his 43 total rushing yards.

The Bills finally got their best offensive player involved, and they did it in a big way. Shady ran the ball 24 times for 85 yards and caught two more passes for 23 yards, putting him over 100 from scrimmage on the day. And like Ivory, it wasn’t really about the total numbers but more about the critical times in which he came up big.
 

  • S Dean Marlowe

Marlowe was just signed up to the 53-man roster earlier in the week and found out he was starting on Saturday morning. Without both Micah Hyde and Rafael Bush, he was thrown right into the fire for his first-ever NFL start. Considering all of that, Marlowe played well and did not hurt his team in any way. That’s a great testament to his preparation going through the week. He finished the game with four tackles and one pass breakup.
 

  • K Stephen Hauschka

Just as he did last year in his first season in Buffalo, Hauschka proved why he has the nickname “Hausch Money.” He made an important 40-yard field late in the third quarter to extend the Bills’ lead, but then drilled the 46-yard walk-off game-winner as time expired. He was even set to punt if called upon due to an injury to punter Corey Bojorquez, but never was needed to.
 

  • Coaching

As early as Monday, it was clear head coach Sean McDermott was upset at the game plan from last week’s contest in Green Bay. He made it known that they aren’t going to win games by not trying to run the football, and especially feeding McCoy. Well, the message was received. On top of that, the entire coaching staff deserves credit for preparing both sides of the ball to play the way they needed to in this game to give them a shot. Basically, they were very self-aware of who they are and the very specific blueprint that is needed for success, and they followed it Sunday.
 

  • Penalties

Two weeks in a row this appears on the positive side of the ledger. That’s great news. The Bills had a total of only four penalties for only 30 yards.
 

  • One sack given up

After coming into the game giving up 21 sacks, the most in the league, the Bills did a great job of keeping Allen clean. The Titans were credited with only one sack, and even that was actually a play where Allen took off to run but was tackled before he got to the line of scrimmage. Play-calling, offensive line blocking, running back and tight end blocking, and Allen himself all did better job and had something to do with that number.

 

BEHIND THE STICKS

  • Passing game

Simply put, the passing game was anemic. Partly because, as mentioned above, the coaching staff understands they can’t rely on throwing the football to try and win games right now. Also, quarterback Josh Allen wasn’t very accurate in this one, even when he had time. When he was accurate, most throws were short and receivers did not have many yards running after the catch. So, I’m not putting Allen specifically on this list, but he was part of a passing game that needs to be better if they want to win more games. Surviving in the NFL with this formula is too tough to do every single week.
 

  • Punter/Holder Corey Bojorquez

Bojorquez had a rough day in more ways than one. A punt in the first quarter looked like it was designed to go to the left side of the offense but went the other way, and sure enough the Titans return man had plenty of room to take it back the other way for 38 yards, setting up their first score of the game. Then later, he inexplicably didn’t set the ball down when he was holding for a field goal. It looked like Bojorquez took it upon himself to try a fake. After the game he and others blamed it on miscommunication. The rookie had another punt he should have been able to pin inside the 15-, or even 10-yard line, but struck it too hard which caused the ball to bounce into the end zone for a touchback.
 

  • Third down defense

The Bills played rock-solid defense most of the afternoon, but for some reason they continually allowed the Titans to convert third downs, even when they had longer yardage to make. Tennessee finished 6-for-12 (50-percent) on third downs on the day.

 

THE BIG PICTURE

Whew. That was one the Bills needed, had in control, but almost let get away. They were able to do what they needed not only in the end but throughout the day to secure the victory. More on that in a minute, but first, I wrote right here in this spot last week that this game was huge because of how the next few can play out either way, and that winning two out of the next three was paramount if we are to have any discussion whatsoever about trying to stay in the wild card race come December. Well, they got that first win and now have two games - both on the road - against similar types of teams. A split with the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans at least keeps the talk interesting about where the season can go, and will put them at 3-4 at worst (4-3 with a sweep) with the New England Patriots coming to Buffalo on a Monday Night.  

Now, let me be clear: I don’t think the formula they used Sunday is sustainable for winning a lot of football games. However, if that’s what’s needed on a weekly basis, then that’s what you do. It’s obvious they did not want Josh Allen to have to win the game with his arm Sunday. The entire passing game was very rudimentary, from the limited number of throws (only 19) to the types of passes, which were mostly short and safe. I do love that they got back to doing what they should have been doing all along, which is run the football and not abandoning it at the first sign of things not going their way.

That said, we all know that in 2018 teams that are run-first and play conservative football have a much tougher time winning games than teams who have successful passing attacks and open it up more. But here’s the thing - the object is to win the game. Each week. No matter how you have to do it. I’m guessing next week the Bills will have a similar game plan when they visit the Texans: run the ball, take as much off Allen’s plate as they can, keep things simple for him, and play good defense. If that wins, so be it. You won’t find criticism from me, but I’ll fully recognize there is a slim margin for error in this formula.

I don’t think Sean McDermott or Brandon Beane believe this is the best way to win games in the NFL every week, either. If they did, they wouldn’t have drafted Josh Allen. In fact, they probably would have stuck with Tyrod Taylor as their quarterback. I know they’re willing to do it that way, if that’s what it takes to get a win. And, quite frankly, that’s all they should care about as they prepare for every game on an individual basis.  

It’s sports. The object is to win the game. The wins and losses aren’t counted differently in the standings based on how it’s done.



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