It was no surprise that Sunday’s matchup between the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills turned into a high-scoring affair — and quickly. They were, after all, the NFL’s two worst teams in terms of points allowed through the first six weeks of the regular season.
However, Jason McCourty’s interception with 2:57 to play led to Nate Washington’s fourth-down touchdown reception with 1:03 remaining that lifted the Titans to a 35-34 victory in a contest that featured three touchdowns in a 25-second span of the first quarter and more than 375 yards of offense from both teams.
"We always talk about creating turnovers but as a defense we’ve got to play better," McCourty said. "For myself, I can’t trade touchdowns for interceptions. You’ve got to find a way to make plays earlier in that game and get off the field. Overall as a defense we did a poor job of tackling [Sunday]."
Tennessee ultimately held the Bills scoreless for the final 15:05 and did not allow any fourth-quarter points for the first time this season. Buffalo’s last chance ended when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw incomplete on fourth down with 26 seconds to play.
The Titans (3-4), who improved to 3-0 in games decided by three points or fewer, got a pair of rushing touchdowns each from backs Chris Johnson and Jamie Harper. Johnson snapped a streak of 200 carries without a score and got the end zone twice in his first four attempts. His second touchdown was an 83-yard touchdown run that made it 14-7 late in the first quarter.
Johnson finished with 195 yards on 18 carries. It was his highest single-game total since he set the franchise record of 228 on Nov. 1, 2009.
"We know how to win games like this; we have to be able to do that," coach Mike Munchak said. "We can’t be one-dimensional like we’ve been in our losses. He’s a great weapon, and if we can continue to do that, we’ll win more football games."
Washington had a team-high six receptions for 43 yards. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, in his third straight start, led a game-winning drive inside the final two minutes for the second straight week and finished 22-for-33 passing for 205 yards.
"We definitely needed it," Washington said. "I think every win that we’ve had thus far has been a close one. We’ve been pulling them out so we just have to do a better job throughout the game of staying in there, keeping our minds in it and going with the ebb and flow."
The Bills (3-4) has a little more variety when it came to scoring points. Fitzpatrick threw three touchdown passes, running back Fred Jackson ran for one and Brad Smith answered Johnson’s long touchdown run with an 89-yard return on the ensuing kickoff.
It didn’t help Tennessee’s defense that middle linebacker Colin McCarthy sat out because of the lingering effects of an ankle injury, which caused him to miss three games early in the season. His replacement, Zac Diles, left with an injury prior to halftime.
Defensive end Kamerion Wimbley’s sack and forced fumble on the first play of the second half set up Harper’s second touchdown, which made it 28-20. McCourty’s interception, his second of the season, was the game’s only other turnover.
The Bills, who did not punt in the first three quarters, went ahead for the first time when Steve Johnson’s 27-yard touchdown reception made it 34-28 with five seconds to play in the third quarter.
"We knew coming to the game the type of offense that we could face and they are capable of scoring 30 or 40 points per game," safety Jordan Babineaux said. "... Defensively in the second half, we forced the turnovers and that was the difference. The offense capitalized and gave us the edge. [Hasselbeck] and [Washington] made a great fourth-down play to help us seal the deal."