Bills drop 5th straight with 23-17 loss to Titans
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.—The playoffs have just about slipped away for the Buffalo Bills after a fifth straight loss.
Chris Johnson rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns and the Tennessee Titans beat the Bills 17-10 on Sunday.
A month ago, the Bills were playoff contenders. Now they are closer to last place than second place in the AFC East.
"I've never lost five in a row, ever," Buffalo linebacker Nick Barnett said. "Pop Warner, baseball, all that stuff, so this is new territory for me and I'm sure for a lot of guys. It doesn't feel good, and I'm sure they don't like it and I don't like it."
From 5-2 to 5-7 -- with the possibility of going from first to last in the division -- the Bills fall has been fast and furious. A fizzling offense coupled with a defense that has plenty of holes has left the Bills staring at their 12th straight non-playoff season.
"Extremely shocked and disappointed, all those words," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who finished 29 of 46 for 288 yards. "It's been really disappointing these last five weeks. It just seemed like when a play needed to be made we didn't make it, and they did. That was the difference."
A rejuvenated Johnson didn't help matters. Held under 100 yards seven times in his first eight games, Johnson now has topped the century mark three times in his last four outings.
He scored on runs of 48 and 4 yards to match his season touchdown total. Kicker Rob Bironas did the rest, hitting three field goals, including a 44-yarder midway through the fourth quarter to put the Titans ahead 23-10.
Johnson had 106 yards in the first half.
"We were two different defenses," Barnett said. "The first half we let (Johnson) make some big plays, and he made them."
C.J. Spiller had a career-best 83 yards rushing and scored on a 35-yard touchdown run in his second start since Fred Jackson broke a bone in his leg. Receiver Stevie Johnson toned down his touchdown celebration after scoring on a 2-yard catch with 2:58 left to make the game close.
Johnson had been criticized for much of the past week over his celebration in a 28-24 loss to the New York Jets. Johnson was fined $10,000 by the NFL for mocking Jets receiver Plaxico Burress, pretending to shoot himself in the thigh. He was also flagged 15 yards for going to the ground in pretending to be a crashing plane.
This time, Johnson kept his arms to himself and politely handed the ball to the nearest official.
The Titans (7-5) converted two Bills turnovers into 10 points.
Rookie linebacker Colin McCarthy stripped Fitzpatrick on a fourth-and-3 scramble and recovered it at the Titans 43-yard line. Six plays later, Johnson scored on a 4-yard scamper up the middle to put Tennessee up 17-7.
McCarthy also recovered tight end Scott Chandler's fumble at the Titans 37 to end the Bills' first possession of the second half. That set up a time-consuming 11-play, 54-yard drive capped by Bironas hitting a 27-yard field goal to give Tennessee a 20-10 lead.
Spiller gave the Bills a 7-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter when he beat the Titans to the left corner and cut it up the sideline. He was chased down from behind by Michael Griffin, who punched the ball loose inside the 10. The ball ricocheted off Spiller's left knee and was bouncing out of the end zone when the running back made a diving attempt to secure it before sliding out.
Officials initially ruled it a touchback, before reversing the call to a touchdown after replays showed Spiller had control of the ball while inbounds.
The Bills never regained the lead after that.
"It's a drastic difference from where we were to where we are now," Bills receiver Brad Smith said. "We look at ourselves in the mirror, and know it's on us."
Notes: Johnson's 48-yard TD run was his longest since scoring a 76-yard touchdown in the 2010 season opener. ... Fitzpatrick's TD pass gave him 20 this season, becoming the first Bills player to throw that many in consecutive years since Jim Kelly did it in 1994-95. ... The Bills honored Allen Wilson, longtime beat writer for The Buffalo News, who died Saturday of leukemia. Flowers and a framed picture of "Big Al" were placed at his seat in the press box. Bills safety and captain George Wilson spoke for the players in issuing his condolences, calling the writer a "good man" and "genuine guy."