Johnson, Titans outlast Buffalo
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Chris Johnson finally hit the gas. And Matt Hasselbeck delivered in the clutch for a second straight week.
And together, they appear to have the sputtering Tennessee Titans turned in the right direction after capping a wild and wacky game with a thrilling finish in a 35-34 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Johnson got the Titans’ offense up and running with 195 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Those scores came during a wild first quarter, in which Tennessee and Buffalo scored three TDs in a span of 30 seconds.
It was then up to Hasselbeck to secure the victory by hitting Nate Washington with a 15-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 1:03 remaining.
“It’s a great feeling,” Hasselbeck said. “To pull through once again in a close game for our third win in a game that came down basically to the last play was a great feeling.”
Facing fourth-and-9, Hasselbeck dropped a pass just over the shoulder of Washington, who had a step on Justin Rogers in the end zone. In his third start in place of Jake Locker, Hasselbeck produced his 22nd fourth-quarter comeback win and second in consecutive weeks after he rallied the Titans to a 26-23 win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 11.
It wouldn’t have been possible had Johnson not emerged from a season-long hibernation.
Entering the game with 301 yards rushing, Johnson broke out with the third-best rushing total against a Bills defense he’s become accustomed to dominating.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad game against them,” Johnson said. He’s right. In three games, Johnson upped his career total against the Bills to 480 yards and six touchdowns.
He opened with a 16-yard touchdown for his first score of the season, and then erupted for an 83-yard TD the next time he touched the ball.
“Yeah, I’ve been waiting for it for a while,” Johnson said. “I don’t think I went 80 yards in like two years, so it feels good.”
The Titans (3-4) won their first road game after opening with three consecutive losses.
The Bills (3-4) have lost three of their past four while stumbling into their bye week with plenty of problems to address.
Their defense still can’t stop the run. In allowing the Titans 197 yards rushing, the Bills have now given up 182 or more yards on the ground in each of their past four games — including 311 in a 45-3 loss at San Francisco two weeks ago.
And quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to raise questions about his inconsistencies. Though he finished 27 of 35 for 225 and three scores, he had two costly turnovers that led to Titans touchdowns. That included his ill-advised pass on third-and-6 that was intercepted by Jason McCourty at midfield with 2:57 to set up the decisive score.
Fitzpatrick blamed himself.
“I got greedy in a situation where I didn’t have any business being greedy in,” Fitzpatrick said, referring to his attempt to force a pass to Donald Jones at the right sideline. “It was a dumb throw and dumb decision by me. Third down, and game on the line, (coach) Chan (Gailey) put the ball in my hands, and I throw an interception. That one hurts.”
Gailey refused to pin all the blame on his quarterback.
“He had a bad throw at the end. Other than that, he played really, really well,” Gailey said. “If you get rid of all the quarterbacks for one bad throw, you’re not going to have any quarterbacks left.”
The trouble is, Fitzpatrick’s had more than one bad throw this season. In Buffalo’s four losses, he’s thrown 10 touchdowns, nine interceptions and lost one fumble. In Buffalo’s three wins, Fitzpatrick has five touchdowns, no interceptions and one lost fumble.
And the Bills offense couldn’t even produce a first down on its last possession, which ended with Fitzpatrick throwing behind Stevie Johnson on fourth-and-2.
Johnson scored on a 27-yard touchdown catch that put the Bills ahead 34-28 with 5 seconds left in the third quarter. Jones scored on a 15-yard reception and Fred Jackson finished with 71 yards rushing and scored on a 3-yard pass.
Brad Smith also scored on an 89-yard kickoff return that came during the stretch in which the teams combined for 21 points on two plays from scrimmage, and 30 seconds running off the clock.
It was the fastest three-score span since the Raiders and Patriots scored three times in 26 seconds on Dec. 14, 2008, according to STATS LLC.
Hasselbeck finished 22 of 33 for 205 yards and a score, while Jamie Harper scored twice on 1-yard plunges.
Coach Mike Munchak was impressed with how his team continues to show perseverance and an ability to win close games. Tennessee’s three wins have been decided by a combined 7 points.
“At the end, when we had to find a way to win it, all the phases came together,” Munchak said. “You see them believing in each other. If we’re in the game, we’re going to find a way to win it.”
NOTES: Bills RG Chad Rinehart did not return after hurting his left ankle in the third quarter. … Munchak didn’t have an update on the status of LB Zac Diles, who was carted off after hurting his right ankle in the first quarter. … Johnson joined both Earl Campbell and Eddie George in becoming the franchise’s third player to have 30 100-yard games, and break 6,000 yards rushing.