ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — As cathartic victories go, this was a pretty good one for the Buffalo Bills.
Seriously, how sweet do you think it was for the Bills to beat down the Titans the way they did, a 41-7 laugher at raucous Highmark Stadium that improved Buffalo’s record to 2-0 on the young season?
As we know, Tennessee has been a problematic opponent for them dating back several years, not only in the previous two seasons when the Titans beat Buffalo twice down in Nashville, but even in the games the Bills have won recently in this series which were low-scoring, drag-it-out slogs.
The Titans have just been a physically tough matchup with their powerful ground game and stout defense. That is, until Monday night as the Bills ran them out of the stadium in a memorable home opener that featured yet another virtuoso performance from the firm of Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, and a dominant defensive effort that throttled Derrick Henry and forced four turnovers.
They would never admit it, but this was surely a game the Bills have been pointing to ever since the schedule came out, not only because it was the home opener, but because they wanted to prove a point against the team that earned the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed in 2021.
The loss two years ago was a similar beatdown that went Tennessee’s way, 42-16, and then last year the Titans survived a last-second fourth-down play, stopping Allen inside the 5-yard-line on that ill-fated QB sneak in a 34-31 loss.
You got the feeling, as they were scoring 34 straight points after the Titans had tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter, the Bills wanted to play all night and just keep pouring it on against their nemesis. Instead, Sean McDermott called off the dogs.
With the game so one-sided, both starting quarterbacks – Allen and Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill – were pulled before the third quarter ended. Case Keenum came in for the Bills and rookie Malik Willis made his NFL debut for the Titans.
That doesn’t happen too often in the NFL, and neither does this. If you can believe it, this was Buffalo’s 20th straight regular-season victory by double digits, tying an NFL record that was set by the Chicago Bears of George Halas spanning the 1941 and 1942 seasons.
Here are some observations:
ONE. TWO. THREE TDs FOR @STEFONDIGGS.
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If there’s anyone who loves the bright lights of prime-time games, it’s the Bills star wide receiver. He made a mockery of a pretty good Tennessee secondary by catching 12 passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns before he went to the bench when Allen did.
The Titans could not cover him no matter who they lined up opposite him, and what was really impressive is that Tennessee’s two excellent safeties, Amani Hooker and Kevin Byard, couldn’t do anything to help the overmatched corners, a crew that included rookie Roger McCreary, Caleb Farley and Tre Avery.
The Bills did better than contain Henry; they pretty much derailed him off the tracks as he finished with just 25 yards on 13 carries.
Since he entered the NFL with the Vikings in 2016, no player has more receptions (82), receiving yards (949), or touchdowns (12) in Monday night games than Diggs.
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The No. 1 priority when you play the Titans is to at least try to contain the locomotive that is Henry. When the Titans get Henry going, everything on their offense works better, especially Tannehill’s play-action game.
Henry had just 12 yards on eight carries in the first half, though he did score a touchdown. And by the time the Bills went ahead 27-7 on Allen’s 46-yard TD pass to Diggs five minutes into the third quarter, and then a Tyler Bass field goal, Henry had only 14 yards on 11 carries.
It’s rare when any team can slow Henry down like that, but the Bills were outstanding at the point of attack. And they were able to do this even though two of their top defensive tackles, Ed Oliver and Tim Settle, were inactive due to injuries.
DT’s Jordan Phillips and DaQuan Jones each played a big role in filling the void left by Oliver and Settle, and as they were holding up the Titans blockers and preventing them from opening holes or getting to the second level, it allowed other defenders to make plays.
Henry was tackled for lost yardage on five plays by five different players – CB Christian Benford, DE Greg Rousseau, LB Tremaine Edmunds, DE Von Miller and S Jordan Poyer. That’s some impressive work.
As enjoyable as the victory was, the Bills came out of it tremendously banged up which is not great when they’re facing a trip down the AFC East rival Miami Sunday in a game that will be for first pace.
With a little less than a minute to play in the first half, cornerback Dane Jackson was making a tackle on Titans wide receiver Treylon Burks when Edmunds came flying in and accidentally hit Jackson in the head, snapping his neck back.
A hush fell over the crowd, and though Jackson was seen moving on the field, the Bills’ trainers took every precaution. They unscrewed his facemask and immobilized his head before placing him on a backboard. He was then loaded into an ambulance and taken to Erie Community Medical Center in Buffalo.
The Bills announced in the press box that Jackson had full movement of his extremities and he was going to undergo a CT scan and an X-ray at the hospital.
With Jackson out, the Bills had to rely on their two rookie cornerbacks, Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam, for the rest of the night. Benford started for the second game in a row, and Elam mixed in after the second series and the rotation would have continued if Jackson had not gotten hurt.
Then in the second half, the Bills suffered three more injuries to their starting defense. Safety Micah Hyde went down with a neck injury and after he slowly walked off the field, he went into the blue medical tent and then was carted to the locker room. Jaquan Johnson took Hyde’s place.
Later, linebacker Matt Milano – shortly after his 43-yard interception return for a touchdown – left the game with a stinger. And then Phillips had to exit with a hamstring injury.
During the first half when it was still a game, the Tennessee defense gave the Bills all kinds of problems in short yardage situations.
The Bills had 10 plays where all they needed was one or two yards to get a first down, and they failed on seven of them. The only ones they converted came via an offside penalty on Tennessee, a pass to Dawson Knox that converted a third-and-2 at the Titans 23 and set up Allen’s TD pass to Reggie Gilliam on the next snap. And then on fourth-and-1 from the 4-yard line late in the half, Allen found Diggs alone in the end zone to give the Bills a 17-7 lead.
One of the failures came on fourth-and-1 at the Titans 31 and Allen tried to throw a short pass was engulfed by Zack Cunningham and was lucky the ball wasn’t intercepted.
The biggest problem is that the offensive line – which played part of the half without center Mitch Morse who injured his elbow – couldn’t get any movement against Tennessee’s front led by Jeffery Simmons.
However, the Bills had no such problems in the second half as they steamrolled the Titans into the ground.
Follow Sal Maiorana on Twitter @salmaiorana.