No one circles the wagons like the Tennessee Titans.
Sorry Chris Berman and the Buffalo Bills.
Ravaged by positive COVID-19 tests, and without several key players on the team’s 53-man roster, the Titans beat the Bills 42-16 with an inspired effort on Tuesday night in the first game with fans present at Nissan Stadium during the 2020 season.
The Titans gave fans plenty to cheer about while improving to 4-0.
It was the team’s first game in 16 days after having back-to-back games rescheduled, and it came after only one full practice during the week leading up to the contest.
With a depleted roster and a resilient approach, the Titans produced an effort on Tuesday night that surely impressed even Berman, the famed ESPN anchor who coined the catchphrase “No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills” roughly 30 years ago.
“All the credit goes to the players for sticking together, and playing in the manner in which they did,” Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said. “I am never going to question this football team. I am never going to question the effort. I expect us to win and play with great effort.”
Vrabel said the Titans have proven to be a resilient team, long before the recent adversity.
“You don’t all of a sudden galvanize when things are bad, and I think that is a testament to these players and what we’ve tried to build here,” Vrabel said. “You don’t say ‘There’s a s&*t storm. We better galvanize.’ You stay tight throughout and hope your core values and core beliefs can take over when things get difficult.”
These Titans showed a lot of fight in this one.
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 21-of-28 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns, and he also ran for a score.
Running back Derrick Henry carried the ball 19 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns.
Receiver A.J. Brown had seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown, and tight end Jonnu Smith caught two touchdown passes.
Cornerback Malcolm Butler had two interceptions.
“I’m going to keep it plain and simple: We expected to win,” Butler said. “We don’t need nobody to give us a chance, we give ourselves a chance, and that’s exactly what we did tonight.”
According to the NFL, the Titans became the first team to score a touchdown on every red zone possession (minimum six red zone drives), have zero turnovers, and allow no sacks since the Patriots defeated the Bills, 56-10, in Week 11 of their undefeated 2007 season.
“I felt really good coming in,” Tannehill said. “There was great energy coming in, and guys were excited to come out and play. It’s been a long couple of weeks, with ups and downs. We’re playing; we’re not playing. We’re practicing; we’re not practicing. We’re on Zoom. We’re in the building and out of the building. It’s been a roller coaster in every which way. But our guys believe in each other, we stuck to the process, and we came out and believed in each other and made plays when we needed to and won the game.”
The Titans started fast, and furious.
First, Butler intercepted Bills quarterback Josh Allen on the third play of the game.
Moments later, Tannehill connected with Brown for a 16-yard touchdown pass to give the Titans a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest.
After the Bills tied it up with a three-yard touchdown pass from Allen to receiver Isaiah McKenzie to make it 7-7, the Titans reclaimed the lead at 14-7 on a one-yard touchdown run by Henry, a drive that was set up by a 40-yard punt return by Kalif Raymond, who also made a 20-yard catch on the drive.
The Bills cut the lead to 14-10 on a 42-yard field goal by kicker Tyler Bass, but the Titans kept on swinging, with stiff-arms (oh my, Derrick Henry) and plays all around.
“We all had two weeks off, and we all love ball–we were ready to play,” Henry said. “We were going to line up with whoever we had to go out there with and go play against a good team and try and win the football. That was our mindset as a team, and it’s what we had to go out there and do.”
Tannehill capped off a 12-play, 90-yard drive in the closing seconds of the first half with a 10-yard touchdown run. And while he didn’t stick the landing on his touchdown celebration, the score gave the Titans a 21-10 lead at the half.
In the second half, Butler provided another spark, and set up another score. Butler intercepted Allen again in the third quarter, and he returned it 68 yards to the Buffalo 13-yard line.
Three plays later, Tannehill connected with Smith for a six-yard touchdown pass to set off the new flashing lights at Nissan Stadium, and change the lights on the scoreboard. The Titans led 28-10 at the end of the third quarter.
The Bills cut the lead to 28-16 with 10 minutes left in the game on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Allen to T.J. Yeldon.
But the Titans extended the lead to 35-16 on another touchdown run by Henry, which capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive.
The Titans forced a turnover on the ensuing kickoff, and Tannehill found Smith for another touchdown (this one a seven-yard completion) to make it 42-16.
“I think it’s a really kind of a special moment,” tackle Dennis Kelly said. “With all the unknown, adversity, there were multiple times where guys could’ve just said, ‘Screw it, whatever, just chop it up as a loss,’ but that was never the mindset. Guys just came in when we were able to. We’re locked in, we’re focused, and I think this just showed how strong our team culture is and I think that it’s a really proud night.
“It was an overall great team win. Every phase showed up, every phase helped this team win, and that’s the goal every week. So, hopefully we can build on it from there.”
The Titans face the Houston Texans on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
“I don’t know about other guys, but I’m about to go get in the cold tub like tonight, like a couple times,” Brown said. “But we’re definitely going to recover, try to shake back, watch this film and try to clean up the little things and get back out there. Move forward. We got a big game coming up, division game.”