Grading the Bills
Running game: B+
Fred Jackson appears to be back. He hadn’t rushed for more than 53 yards or averaged better than 3.3 yards a carry this year. But on Sunday he ran nine times for 71 yards. Bills coach Chan Gailey struck a nice balance with Jackson and C.J. Spiller, who had 12 attempts for 70 yards. Jackson and Spiller averaged a healthy 6.9 yards a carry, almost a full yard more than the Bills averaged per pass play.
Passing game: C+
At first glance, Ryan Fitzpatrick had a solid game. Before his costly interception, he threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns. Although he did make impressive TD strikes to Donald Jones and Stevie Johnson, much of his production was done after the catch on screens. In the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick completed five of his eight throws for 9 yards and an interception.
Run defense: F
I considered giving the Bills a D- because Chris Johnson is so dynamic, but four other teams held him to fewer than 24 yards this year. The Bills made Johnson look like Barry Sanders against a beer-league team. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams was bewildered by all the defensive breakdowns against the run, calling them “ridiculous.”
Pass defense: D
A week after looking so good against the Arizona Cardinals, the Bills’ pass defense didn’t make many plays Sunday. The Bills sacked Matt Hasselbeck, a classic pocket passer, twice and registered five quarterback hits. The Bills snared zero interceptions, although one ball hit safety George Wilson right in the gut near the goal line on the Titans’ final possession. And then the Bills allowed the winning touchdown pass on fourth-and-9.
Special teams: B+
Brad Smith buoyed the Bills with an 89-yard kickoff return to tie the game right after Chris Johnson ripped off a potentially demoralizing 83-yard TD. Rian Lindell made a pair of field goals into a gusty wind. But rookie Shawn Powell shanked a fourth-quarter punt that went out of bounds at the Bills’ 46. Powell’s inability to flip the field eventually helped the Titans win.
The offensive game plan should’ve been good enough. The Bills’ offense was responsible for 27 points, and Fitzpatrick managed the game well enough aside from the final three minutes. But the defense was putrid again. Gailey’s most questionable call was ordering a 31-yard FG on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter (the Bills averaged 8 yards a run in the first half).
Grading the Titans
Running game: A
Chris Johnson was dominant, especially in the first half, when he ran nine times for 139 yards and two touchdowns. He looked spectacular on an 83-yard run, sprinting untouched into the end zone, and he had four runs of at least 16 yards. Jamie Harper gained 8 yards on 7 carries but had two TDs.
Passing game: B
Hasselbeck was perfect on the opening drive and didn’t throw an incomplete pass until 30 seconds were left in the first quarter. Receivers were open, especially on third downs and on the biggest fourth down of all. Hasselbeck spread the ball around. Eight Titans had a catch. The Titans allowed two sacks.
Run defense: D+
Tennessee struggled to stop Jackson and Spiller, who averaged 6.7 yards a carry but ran only 21 times. Three of Jackson’s nine carries went for double-digit yards. He had only one run that went for fewer than 4 yards. Spiller had two double-digit runs, four for fewer than 4 yards.
Pass defense: C-
Jason McCourty came up with the crucial interception that led to Tennessee’s winning touchdown, but he got burned on Johnson’s 27-yard go-ahead touchdown. The Titans had only four pass breakups and five quarterback hits. Their only sack caused a fumble. Jackson and Spiller combined for 14 catches for 81 yards and a TD.
Special teams: C-
On kickoffs, the Titans gave up Smith’s touchdown and allowed Leodis McKelvin to average 37.5 yards a return. Grand Island native Brett Kern forced McKelvin to call fair catches at the 13- and 14-yard-lines. Rob Bironas recorded a pair of touchbacks.
Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer gave Chris Johnson only one touch over the game’s final 12 minutes. That run went for 27 yards on the winning drive. The Titans had a solid offensive game plan and did everything to give it away on defense.