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Layman: Titans display resilience in win over Bills

Bills Titans Football
Posted at 10:37 AM, Oct 19, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Kevin Byard stood at a podium in the media room in the bowels of Nissan Stadium late Monday night. The Titans’ press corps was assembled in front of him, waiting to hear his description of his team’s thrilling 34-31 victory over the Bills. One word came to his mind.

“Resilience,” Byard said. “That’s just the word of our team. We’ve been in a lot of close games and we usually come out on top in those games because we’re battle tested.”

The word was the perfect description for how the Titans overcame a slow start offensively and a seemingly never-ending stream of injuries to beat a Bills team that many anointed as the AFC’s new favorite after an impressive win last week at Kansas City.

The defense bent plenty against Buffalo’s high-powered offense, but didn’t break. Sure, they gave up 417 yards, 335 of which came through the air from Josh Allen, but they stiffened in the red zone all night long.

They kept the Titans in the game while the offense struggled early, holding the Bills to field goals after they reached the Tennessee five- and 10-yard lines, respectively, on two first quarter drives. And they shut the door when they buckled down again with their backs against their own goalline in the final minute of the game.

After Buffalo dissected a decimated secondary, driving from their own 18 down to the Tennessee eight, the Titans forced an incompletion and forced Josh Allen into a scramble that ended up with the Buffalo QB airborne trying to extend for the first down. He came up a half yard short, setting up fourth down and a decision for Sean McDermott.

Instead of kicking the sure field goal to force overtime, McDermott elected to go for it and try to win the game. The aggressive decision backfired when Allen went under center and tried to plow forward with a quarterback sneak and was met immediately by Jeffery Simmons. He read the play perfectly, dove inside the block and took Allen to the ground.

It was the latest big goalline stand — stops against the Chargers, Colts, Jaguars and Patriots come to mind — from a defense that’s been much maligned, but has a knack for coming up big on the most important part of the field. It was a big moment for big Jeff, a defensive tackle that often attracts multiple blockers but has not filled the stat sheet the way maybe some Titans’ fans would hope. His impact was felt all over this game with a sack, two quarterback hits and five tackles, including that final stop.

It was the last wild swing on a night that saw seven different lead changes, but ended with the home team celebrating and the Bills Mafia, who filled the bars and restaurants downtown all weekend, heading back towards lower Broadway to drown their sorrows.

But this win was about more than Simmons’ breakthrough play or defensive redemption. It was about an entire team sticking together for a full 60 minutes. It was about the resilience that Byard was talking about. You could see it all over the field.

Derrick Henry’s night started with just eight yards on his first four carries. But, as always, Henry and the Titans committed to their ground and pound attack. His fifth carry went for a 76-yard touchdown in which he clocked the fastest speed of a ball carrier in the NFL this year – 21.8 MPH!!! That’s unfair that a 250-pound man can run that fast, and what Henry is doing right now is unfair to defenses.

Henry ran for 143 more yards and three touchdowns Monday night — each one giving the Titans the lead — including what turned the game-winning 13-yard jaunt with 3:05 left. He’s now got three different 100-yard, three TD games in the first six weeks of the season. Henry’s in the middle of the best 40-game stretch in NFL history, on pace to run for a NFL record of 2,219 yards this season and a third straight rushing title.

The Titans’ two star receivers found their way back into the gameplan as well. Julio Jones returned to the lineup, despite not looking anywhere near 100%, after missing the past two and a half games. He caught three passes in the first half for a team-high 59 yards, including the best 48-yard catch you’ll ever see, fighting off pass interference, tracking a carom off the defender’s helmet and diving for the catch while dragging both feet inbounds.

Jones was limited after halftime with his ginger hamstring, but A.J. Brown took over. The team’s other No. 1 receiver was made questionable for the game after suffering food poisoning over the weekend from what he described as bad Chipotle. Brown may have blown his shot at being a burrito endorser, but he should have plenty of other opportunities after he rebounded to catch all seven of his passes for 91 yards in the second half.

Ryan Tannehill shook off a 2-8 start with a bad interception to complete 16 of his last 21 passes for 216 yards, and also run for a touchdown. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, who helped spring Henry’s long run and had several other key blocks, emerged as a go-to receiver on the final scoring drive with three catches for 27 yards and one huge third down pick up.

The offensive line overcame a deflating loss when Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan was placed on a backboard and carted off the field after going down injured in the second quarter. Fortunately, he had feeling in all his extremities, according to the team. With Lewan out and Ty Sambrailo making the abrupt decision to retire last week, the Titans turned to Kendall Lamm at left tackle. Lamm had played just 13 snaps this season, but filled in admirably, helping pave the way for Henry’s big night and keeping Tannehill upright as the Titans did not allow a sack for the first time all season.

David Long Jr. didn’t start the season as a starter but led the team in tackles for a second straight week, flying around the field for 14 tackles. Amani Hooker missed three straight games on injured reserve, but was activated ahead of the game Monday and chipped in nine stops. Byard himself continued his bounce back season with a first half interception that set up a touchdown. Byard now has three interceptions and four turnovers this season, and is again looking like an All-Pro caliber safety.

Call it resolve or just plain guts. But faced with the toughest challenge — and some tough circumstances — the Titans looked like the contender we thought they could be Monday night. Things were far from perfect, and the injuries continue to mount in ways that are impossible to ignore. But they displayed the grit they’ve become known for under Mike Vrabel, finding a way to go toe to toe with one of the NFL’s best teams for more than three hours, rallying for their league-best 14th win in the fourth quarter or overtime since 2018, and taking a two-game lead over the Colts in the AFC South.

It took all they have, but the Titans showed once again that all they have is pretty good. Most importantly, they displayed a championship mettle in how they quickly shook off their mistakes, moved past adversity and fought through all the obstacles.

What’s the word for that again?

Oh yeah, resilience.

And Byard and the Titans have that in spades.