Tuesday’s NFL: Tannehill scores 4 TDs as depleted Titans beat Bills 42-16
The Tennessee Titans just put together their most gratifying victory of coach Mike Vrabel’s short tenure.
They spent the past two weeks dealing with the NFL’s first COVID-19 outbreak with each morning bringing news of yet another positive test. A game postponed and rescheduled with a second pushed back. Only one practice with two walk-throughs and unrelenting criticism.
The Titans remain depleted. They’re also still undefeated.
Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Titans routed the Buffalo Bills 42-16 on a rare Tuesday night in a showdown between two of the NFL’s five remaining undefeated teams pushed back two days after a couple more positive tests for Tennessee last week.
“What this organization has been through over the past couple weeks to really fight through all of that, shake it all off, really limited practice, limited reps and go out and put this kind of win together, I think makes a statement and I’m happy we were able to do that today,” Tannehill said.
The Titans (4-0) continued their best start since winning their first 10 games in 2008 despite not playing their last game Sept. 27 in Minnesota. Coach Mike Vrabel said everyone in the organization would get a game ball after this performance.
“I learned a long time ago is the definition of a pro is they make the hard look easy, so whatever situation we’re presented with we got to all come together and make the best decisions for the team each and every time,” Vrabel said.
Malcolm Butler intercepted two passes, the second he returned 68 yards, and both set up short touchdowns for Tennessee. Kareem Orr’s recovery of a fumbled kickoff set up Tannehill’s fourth TD for 21 points off Buffalo’s three turnovers. Kalif Raymond’s 40-yard punt return also set up a 1-yard TD run by Derrick Henry.
“We expected to win,” Butler said.
The Bills (4-1) had not won five straight games since 2004, and they came in looking for the franchise’s best start since 1991 when Buffalo reached the Super Bowl. They also played without starting cornerbacks with Tre’Davious White inactive because of a back injury and Levi Wallace on injured reserve.
Starting wide receiver John Brown also was out for Buffalo, which had scored at least 30 points in the past three games.
“They were ready to go and at the same time we beat ourselves,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said.
Buffalo center Mitch Morse called this a gut-punch.
“It’s tough, they came out and beat us like a drum,” Morse said.
Josh Allen came in second in the NFL in yards passing. He threw for 263 yards and two TDs. Stephon Diggs had 10 catches for 106 yards.
The Titans needed the turnovers with seven key players on the reserve/COVID-19 list led by wide receivers Corey Davis and Adam Humphries and defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons. They also were missing a couple assistant coaches and two players activated off that reserve list earlier Tuesday were scratched.
The Titans got a big boost on the Bills’ opening drive.
Allen’s pass went off Andre Roberts’ hands right to Butler, and he returned the interception 29 yards to the Bills 16. Two plays later, Tannehill hit A.J. Brown, who missed the last two games with an injured knee, for a 16-yard TD for the quick lead.
The Bills tied it up with a methodical 15-play drive converting four third downs, taking advantage of a Titans’ defense playing a pair of rookies in end Larrell Murchison and cornerback Chris Jackson. Allen tossed the ball to Isaiah McKenzie for a 3-yard TD tying it up, the ninth different Bill to catch a TD pass from Allen.
The Titans scored 21 of the next 24 points.
Tennessee led 21-10 at halftime after Tannehill ran in from 10 yards seconds before the half. Butler refused to go down after picking off an Allen throw to Gabriel Davis late in the third, and Tannehill found Jonnu Smith for a 4-yard TD and a 28-10 lead three plays later.
This was the 21st time the NFL has played on a Tuesday and the league’s first on a Tuesday night since Dec. 28, 2010, when the Eagles hosted Minnesota on a Tuesday because of a snowstorm. That game was the first since the Boston Yanks played at the New York Giants on Oct. 1, 1946.
The Titans had roughly 8,600 fans on hand for this game. Tennessee originally was going to have fans Oct. 4 for the first time this season, but the outbreak pushed that game with Pittsburgh to Oct. 25. Zip ties were used to keep fans from switching seats, and neck gaiters were given out.
The NFL has no plans to move into a bubble as it takes several new steps to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The league will begin PCR testing for COVID-19 on game days starting this week, use of masks in walkthroughs are now mandatory and only play-callers will be permitted to wear face shields in lieu of masks or gaiters on the sideline.
“We cannot grow complacent, not the players, not the coaches, not the rest of our personnel,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said following virtual meetings with team owners. “Ninety percent is not good enough in this environment. We have to be incredibly diligent and disciplined.”
The updated protocols sent to teams Monday night also require anyone identified as a “high risk” close contact to be isolated and not permitted to return to the team’s facility for at least five days.
Goodell spoke a few hours before the Tennessee Titans were scheduled to host Buffalo in their first game since an outbreak shut down team facilities and forced the schedule to be rearranged.
The Titans had eight people test positive Sept. 29 and the total reached 24 players and personnel. It doesn’t appear the league will discipline the Titans for any violation of protocols following a review of the team’s actions.
Goodell said the league will maintain flexibility in order to complete the season with the Super Bowl. However, it doesn’t appear one of those options will be moving the playoffs into a bubble like Major League Baseball did. The NBA and NHL finished their regular season and postseason in bubbles.
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said the league is “proceeding as is” and deferred to Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer.
Sills said all options are on the table but warned there are several risks to moving into a bubble. He pointed out that other individuals such as service workers still have to go in and out of the bubble. He emphasized the infection can spread more rapidly if it gets inside. And, he stressed the human element, saying that being sequestered can cause an “emotional” and “behavioral health toll” that becomes a “really significant stress point,” especially around the holidays.
In their two-hour meeting with owners, the league also discussed ongoing diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives and social justice and social responsibility.
Saints ponder move
The New Orleans Saints have begun discussions with LSU about holding future Saints home games at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, a team spokesman said.
The Saints have played three of eight scheduled regular season home games in the Superdome so far this season with no ticketed fans in attendance. The few hundred in attendance consisted primarily of privately invited family members of players, coaches or staff.
The Saints had place a request with New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell to allow ticketed fans to occupy about 25% percent of the Superdome’s 73,000 seats while wearing masks and following other social distancing guidelines during Monday Night’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers. But the Mayor denied that request.
“While the Saints’ request for a special exception to the city’s COVID-19 guidelines remains under consideration, allowing 20,000 people in an indoor space presents significant public health concerns,” said Beau Tidwell, Cantrell’s director of communications. “At present, no NFL stadium in the country with a fixed-roof facility is allowing such an exception. We will continue to monitor the public health data, but cannot set an artificial timeline for how and when conditions may allow for the kind of special exemption being requested.”
LSU’s Tiger Stadium is an outdoor venue seating up to 102,000, meaning it can hold more than 25,000 fans at one-quarter capacity.
With Gov. John Bel Edwards and Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s approval, LSU had a little more than 20,000 fans at it’s lone home game so far this season on Sept. 26.
The Dallas Cowboys signed quarterback Garrett Gilbert off Cleveland’s practice squad after Dak Prescott’s season-ending ankle injury. Gilbert played at Texas and SMU before he was drafted by the Rams, who were then in St. Louis, in the sixth round in 2014. Dallas is the seventh organization for Gilbert, who has played in six games and thrown six passes in his career.
... The Los Angeles Rams have placed rookie safety Jordan Fuller (shoulder) on injured reserve.
... The New York Jets have placed wide receiver Chris Hogan (high ankle sprain) on injured reserve.