From some of my game notes, with afterthoughts added.
When the schedule for the season came out, Travis Henry circled the Buffalo game. I did too, mentally, but for different reasons. At the time, I expected the Titans to have a losing record and be out of playoff contention by this time in the season. Having to play on the road on Christmas Eve did not sound appealing, especially in the wind and cold Buffalo is known for.
Prior to gametime, I reflected on several other non-game related things. The Music City Miracle came to mind of course. Craig Hentrich and Benji Olson were the only players on that team who are still on the active roster. Zach Piller, also on that team, is on Injured Reserve, and Frank Wycheck, whose lateral sparked the controversy, is now with Titans Radio as the color commentator.
I also reflected on the origins of the American Football League. After the passing of Lamar Hunt earlier this month, only Titans owner Bud Adams and Bills owner Ralph Wilson survive as founding fathers of the league.
On to the game. The wind was as expected, but the cold was not. I was glad the Bills' defense was not particularly good stopping the run. I wasn't looking forward to having to watch Vince Young have to throw in the wind playing catch-up ball.
Built on speed, not size, similar to Indianapolis, the Buffalo D would give up chunks of yardage to Henry. It was a little surprising to see both teams move the ball against the wind in the first half. The Cheese would surpass the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the half, the third time he gained over 1,000 in his career.
This reminds me of how he got his nickname. In college at UT, another player hit him in practice once and then said, "You're stronger than government cheese!"
Henry did not go down easily against Bills would-be tacklers. It took several defenders to stop him on quite a few occasions. After getting his 1,000 yards, Henry would go on to also surpass the 1,100 yard mark, on his way to a 135-yard day. He also had a 57-yard run called back on a holding penalty.
The wind came into play vividly on a 42-yard field goal by Rob Bironas. Normally a chip shot for him, the distance was at the edge of his range into the wind. At game's end, Buffalo would pass on fourth down, rather than try a slightly longer field goal at that end of the field.
Bironas had difficulty kicking off into the wind, punter Craig Hentrich had some of his punts knocked down by the wind, and snapper Ken Amato had most of his snaps sail high. Hentrich did an outstanding job holding for the field goals and PATs.
Some teams are built on certain factors, such as a grass field or turf. The Bills are in part built to take advantage of the weather conditions. They have a very good kicker, punter, and return men to give them the best special teams in the league. Their punt and kick returners, along with the wind, gave Tennessee problems. Buffalo QB J.P. Losman has an arm strong enough to throw into the stiff wind.
The wind wasn't a factor when Young scored another electrifying touchdown with only seconds left in the half. After breaking the LOS and into the open field, I think everybody knew he was gone, even though he still had 40 yards to traverse against half a team of defenders. Credit Kevin Mawae and the O-line for a few good blocks. Young's touchdown was reminiscent of his overtime dash in Houston two weeks ago.
Penalties would play a part in the game, usually not a good omen for Tennessee. A rare occasion, an untimed play due to a defensive penalty, gave Buffalo a gift three points at the end of the half. The Titans had 11 penalties for 81 yards, enough to usually lose a game. And of course, there were also the 57 yards which would have flipped the field lost due to penalty.
That third quarter was a real bear. It was played on the Titans' end and Buffalo scored 10 points playing the short field. The 57-yarder was called back, the Titans had three three-and-outs, and Young didn't have a pass completion in the quarter. I kept looking at the game clock, counting down the time and trying to will the clock to run faster, hoping the Titans could get out of the quarter as soon as possible.
Tennessee was lucky the Bills only scored 10 in the quarter. They were fooled badly on a lateral to Evans who threw into the end zone to a wide open TE Royal, who didn't get both feet down for the TD.
With the change of direction for the fourth quarter, the Tennessee hopes seemed to change also. A nine-point deficit didn't seem insurmountable after the fourth-quarter comebacks in recent games.
The wind shouldn't have had anything to do with it, but the Titan ground game came alive again in the fourth quarter. Rushes by Young and Henry gave the Titans their first two first downs of the second half. A pair of passes to Brandon Jones were the first two completions of the half and yielded a Titan TD.
The series gave credence once again to the statement that the running game opens things up for the passing game. Bills safety Donte Whitner moved up to show the Titans a lot of eight in the box and ended up as Buffalo's leading tackler with 14.
Jones ended up with the first 100-yard receiving game of his career.
The O-line really took the game over in the fourth quarter. On the Titans' final possession, they ran the ball 13 times and passed once, moving the ball 75 yards and taking seven minutes off the clock on the drive. The only pass play was a one-yard dump to Ahmard Hall, who added 11 more yards on RAC.
Some fans may find that kind of football boring. Titans' fans know it's what Jeff Fisher believes in, and it's hard to argue with the success he's often had with the philosophy.
Tennessee's next game is Sunday vs New England. The Patriots have clinched a playoff spot as the AFC East champions and have a number four seed. They're expected to give their starters a lot of rest, making the Titans a favorite for the game.
The Titans still have an outside shot at making the playoffs. The following must occur for Tennessee:
1) The Titans win
2) Cincinatti loses or ties against Pittsburgh
3) Jacksonville loses at Kansas City
4) Denver loses to San Francisco
Here are the early lines for the game:
Tennessee -3 vs New England
Cincinatti -6 vs Pittsburgh
Kansas City -2½ vs Jacksonville
Denver -10½ vs San Francisco