We really should have seen this coming.
The Titans spent all weekend telling us how frustrated and angry they were to be tried and convicted as Covid-19 protocol felons. They were out for bear and had no fear letting everyone know.
The Bills had plenty of reason to be distracted. Most of last week, they didn’t know who they would play. They didn’t know when they would play.
Even though Buffalo players and coaches told us they would be ready for whatever, they are still human beings. Their careers are built on routine. Last week, the NFL took a machete to that routine. The Bills didn’t lose a player or coach to Covid infection, but they did lose their comfort zone.
And it showed.
There was no one position, one player or one phase of the Bills more at fault than the other. You could have closed your eyes and thrown a dart at the Buffalo roster and landed on a guy who had a bad night.
The defense got drilled for 42 points, but two of those six touchdown drives were on short fields after interceptions. That’s on the offense. Two more of those drives were on short fields after a fumbled kick off and a long punt return. Those are on the special teams.
However, don’t excuse this rapidly deteriorating defense. They could have forced field goals on a couple of those sudden change situations to keep their team in the game a bit longer. That didn’t happen. Leslie Frazier’s crew also has no one else to blame for the 90 yard drive at the end of the first half that was, probably, the turning point of the game. Get the Titans off the field with a field goal and you can go to the locker room still feeling competitive trailing by just one score. That didn’t happen, either.
Josh Allen couldn’t save the Bills. His second interception was a terrible mistake. The first was more on Andre Roberts, but also wasn’t a great throw. Allen has played like an MVP when everything was going right. When everything was going wrong Tuesday night, he played like just another decent quarterback.
The game plan was not up to Brian Daboll’s normal stuff this year. How does Cole Beasley not get a first half target? How does the worst rush defense in the NFL hold the Bills under three yards per carry (when it mattered)? Even offensive coordinators who start out hot can sometimes regress to the mean.
No doubt, injuries were also a big part of this game for Buffalo. Tre White and Matt Milano are maybe the Bills’ two best individual cover defenders. It seemed that way in Nashville. Titan receivers had no trouble finding open spaces. Ryan Tannehill finished with only seven incompletions against three touchdown passes.
John Brown’s absence was felt on the third play of the game. The Bills running game could sorely use Jon Feliciano back in the lineup. This injury thing is not a problem Sean McDermott had to deal with much last year. Tuesday night football turned into an NFL reality check for the Bills.
Even the one healthy unit–the defensive line–was a letdown. I thought they really turned the game last week in Las Vegas by getting after Derek Carr with just four man pressures. Tuesday night in Tennessee, Tannehill had no trouble moving the ball and extending drives in almost every situation. When the Bills got a touchdown to keep the game mildly interesting in the fourth quarter, the Titans steamrolled down the field for a game sealing TD drive that included 58 rushing yards.
The concerning part is McDermott has preached rolling with the punches all year long. His players knew they would have to adjust schedules on the fly. They knew they would need to be ready for anything.
They looked ready for nothing Tuesday night. The Bills were unprepared, unfocused and got undressed.
There’s no need for a panic. It’s only one loss. Two years ago, the Patriots went to Tennessee for a midseason game flying high and got hammered by three touchdowns. They still went on to win a Super Bowl. Good teams find a way to make sure one bad loss stays one bad loss.
Whatever the Bills did to get ready for this incredibly abnormal week, they need to never do it again. Find the game plan. Burn it. Bury it. Cover it with cement and leave a sign on top about a curse that damns anyone who disturbs it to eternal employment with the Jets.
That’s because the Bills have another abnormal week coming up. They’re going to face an opponent and an offense that can do a whole lot more damage than the one who just dropped 42 points on Buffalo.
The collapse Tuesday in Tennessee was so uncharacteristic, the issues have to run deeper than a bad game plan or few mistakes. You can blame the Titans for forcing the schedule re-arrangement, but only the Bills are responsible for how they reacted.
It’s unlikely to be a permanent or long lasting problem and McDermott is high on the list of coaches capable of nipping such malaise before it ruins a season. Regardless, the Bills need to restore their house to order and soon.
If they don’t, the defending champs will be happy to hand out another loss in Orchard Park on Monday. And this one, everyone will see coming a mile away.