Bills show they’re legit contenders in win over Titans

Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills kept up their strong start to the 2019 season, strangling the Titans offense on the way to a 14-7 win and a 4-1 record

A former CFL star playing in his first career NFL game, suffocating defense and some help from the opposing kicker helped the Buffalo Bills improve to 4-1 on Sunday.

It wasn’t an inspiring performance by the Bills, particularly on offense, but it didn’t need to be. The defense sacked Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota five times on the way to a 14-7 win on the road at Nissan Stadium.

The Bills came into the game with just seven sacks through their first four games but consistently put pressure on Mariota. Jordan Phillips, the Bills’ 6-foot-6, 341-pound defensive tackle, had three sacks in the first half alone after having just 6.5 in the first five years of his career, one in 16 games with Buffalo. He became the first Bills player with three sacks in the opening half in 13 years, since Ryan Denney in 2006 against the Dolphins.

A week after holding Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to 150 yards and no touchdowns, the Bills defense continued to prove that they are a formidable unit. The Bills lost that game 16-10, thanks largely to a blocked punt that New England returned for a touchdown, but forced Brady to have his worst game since 2006. It was only the third time in his Hall of Fame career that Brady finished a game with a passer rating under 46 and no touchdowns.

Sunday’s win was the first time the Bills have held their opponent to seven or fewer points while getting five sacks since Week 12 of the 2014 season against the Jets. Mariota finished the game 13-of-22 for 183 yards and no touchdowns and was hit eight times. The Titans were held to just 252 total yards.

Quarterback Josh Allen returned to the field after leaving last week’s game against New England with a concussion and continued his usual boom-or-bust style of play. He connected with tight end Lee Smith for a touchdown pass to open the scoring in the second quarter, but a costly mistake led to Tennessee’s only points of the game.

In the third quarter, with the Bills offense facing a third-and-five from their own 35-yard line, Allen scrambled before throwing into heavy coverage. Kevin Byard picked off the throw, Allen’s league-leading seventh interception of the season, and seven plays later Derrick Henry ran in from a yard out to tie the game at seven.

Allen atoned for the mistake in the fourth quarter, throwing a seven-yard touchdown pass to receiver Duke Williams, a former All-Star in the CFL who was promoted to the active roster this week. Allen also showed off his legs, running for a five-yard gain on third-and-three with less than two minutes remaining that allowed Buffalo to run out the clock. He finished the game with 23 completions on 32 attempts for 219 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Buffalo’s defense was a big reason for their victory on Sunday, but they also had some help. Titans kicker Cairo Santos went 0-4 on field goal attempts, two of them from 36 and 33 yards, respectively. He’s the first kicker to miss all four field goal attempts in a game since Miami’s Dan Carpenter in 2010, also against Buffalo. A touchdown run by Henry was also overturned by a penalty.

Buffalo improves to 4-1 on the season for the first time since 2011. They’re a game behind the Patriots, who blew out the hapless Redskins to go 5-0, in the AFC East and showed last Sunday they can hang with the defending Super Bowl champions.

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The story for the Bills remains the same as it’s been all year: if Allen limits his mistakes, this is a playoff-contender. He made one on Sunday, but a terrific effort by the defense more than made up for it and established the Bills as a team to be reckoned with in the AFC in 2019.

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