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Fourth down at the 3 yard line and this game that’s had eight lead changes has come down to one play on which the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills will battle for one yard — actually less — to decide it all.
The Bills are trailing 34-31 with 22 seconds to play, and on their sideline during a time out, there’s conversation but no debate about what to do next.
Because it’s ultimately coach Sean McDermott’s decision and his mindset is to trust his team in general and quarterback Josh Allen specifically.
“We’re this far from winning the game and I owe it to my players,” McDermott says. “I believe in my players, I believe in our quarterback. I trust my guys.”
So the Bills line up ready to put the ball and the game in Allen’s hands rather than try what would be a game-tying field goal attempt to send the teams and a national television audience into overtime.
The Titans’ defense is fine with that. Sort of.
Last week, they authored a magnificent goal-line stand against Jacksonville, which was a confidence boost throughout the week of Buffalo preparation. But now things are a bit hectic, so veteran safety Kevin Byard decides to call one of the team’s three time outs to be certain about what’s next.
“I felt like guys were scrambling a little bit,” Byard says. “We were trying to get the call from the sidelines. In a big situation like that, we had three timeouts, I took it upon myself to call it.”
Soon the defenders have their plan and are talking about not just keeping the Bills from scoring but keeping the Bills from moving. Like, at all.
“We were literally on the field talking about defending every blade of grass,” Byard says. “I was yelling, ‘Defend every blade of grass.’ Thinking about the Jacksonville play from last week, just a resilient bunch of guys. It’s not perfect. But at the end of the day, we have guys that fight. That’s all you can ask for in this league.”
The Bills have plenty of fight in them as well. They didn’t reach the AFC Championship Game last season by happenstance. They’re not one of the league’s better teams now based on reputation.
“They are one of those teams that want to win it all,” Titans outside linebacker Bud Dupree says.
So Buffalo’s going for it — especially considering that a field goal would send the game into overtime and give the Tennessee offense a chance to win it. And the Bills haven’t stopped that unit on its last three consecutive possessions.
That Titans offense, led by running back Derrick Henry’s 130 rushing yards and three touchdowns, is so confident they’re not necessarily thinking of winning the game in overtime if the Bills score.
They’re thinking of winning in regulation.
“I was moving around a lot at that point,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill says. “I’m kind of watching the clock, thinking, ‘If they score, if they kick a field goal, whatever the case may be, how much time we’re going to have left to try to go and win this thing.'”
Finally the moment arrives.
The Bills put Allen under center, which is a glowing neon sign they’re going to run a quarterback sneak. Either that or they’ve totally lost their minds and are running a gimmick play — another one because they scored on a Philly (Billy?) Special type thing earlier.
“We know what they kind of do, especially in that type of situation, even if they’re outside the red zone,” Titans defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons says. “Right there on the goal line when the quarterback gets under center like that, we anticipated a sneak.”
The ball is snapped and Allen seemingly slips as he tries to find daylight in the mass of humanity. And Simmons penetrates through his gap.
“Obviously didn’t have the greatest footing,” Allen laments. “It happens, it’s a game of inches.
“I’m just trying to find a window to get in there. Quarterback sneaks aren’t the funnest play by any means. I have to find a way to get a first down there. It happens.”
What happens is Simmons wins the moment.
“I was inside of the tackle, got my hat on the tackle, quarterback’s right there, I tried to get low and put my big arms around him so he can’t move,” Simmons says. “He was short. So it was a great play by everybody. Everybody was in their gaps.”
Titans win and all that remains is epilogue:
The Bills unanimously defend McDermott’s decision to forego the field goal.
“It looked like there was an opportunity, but, you know, at the end of the day, I trust [Josh Allen],” McDermott insists. “And I’ll trust him again if we’re in that situation again. So, you know, I’ll take Josh Allen, as you said, 10 times out of 10.”
Simmons returns to the Tennessee locker room holding the football from the fateful winning play. He had traded releasing Allen from his grasp in exchange for that ball.
“[Byard], I don’t know how he got the ball, but he actually gave me the ball,” Simmons shares. “And he asked me, ‘Who made the tackle?’ And I was like, ‘Who do you think?’ He knew I made the stop but maybe he didn’t think I’d finish it.”
He finished it.
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