Bills’ leaky defense exposed in blowout loss to Titans

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Safety Micah Hyde insists there’s nothing wrong with the Buffalo Bills’ defense that can’t be easily corrected.

“No panic. I feel like we hit a rough patch here,” Hyde said, after Buffalo provided little resistance in a 42-16 loss at Tennessee on Tuesday. “We’re going to get it right with a guy like Sean steering the ship.”

He was referring to coach Sean McDermott, who was busy deflecting questions whether the Bills got the short end in having to potentially prepare for two opponents. The Bills spent part of last week in limbo, uncertain whether the COVID-19-affected Titans would be allowed to play, and with Buffalo originally scheduled to host the Chiefs on Thursday night. The game against Kansas City has since been moved to Monday.

“Yeah, I’ve got no comment on that,” McDermott said after the loss. “There’s no excuses, no explanations. We got beat tonight and that starts with us.”

As for his defense, McDermott acknowledged how uncharacteristically it has performed five weeks into the season.

The loss dropped Buffalo to 4-1, and put a dent into the sudden rush of enthusiasm surrounding what had been an electric start. The performance against Tennessee particularly raises concerns how the defense will hold up with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs (4-1) hitting town with two extra days of rest.

Buffalo’s once-stout unit has sprung leaks, with the troubles going beyond one game or the unit missing key players.

With both starting cornerbacks, including 2019 All-Pro Tre’Davious White, and starting linebacker Matt Milano sidelined, the 42 points allowed were the most by Buffalo since a 47-3 season-opening loss to Baltimore in 2018. The Titans scored touchdowns on six drives inside the red zone — also the first time an opponent’s done that since the Ravens.

Tennessee converted 6 of 10 third-down opportunities, plus a fourth-down attempt, and crossed midfield on all but one of nine possessions, though four began in Buffalo territory.

To be fair, the Bills struggled in all phases.

Josh Allen misfired on numerous throws, with two intercepted, while receivers contributed by dropping passes. The running attack continued to be stuck in neutral, finishing with 95 yards, 34 coming on T.J. Yeldon’s scamper on a mean-nothing final drive.

Special teams contributed, with Andre Roberts losing a fumble on a kickoff return, while Buffalo also gave up Kalif Raymond’s 40-yard punt return, which set up the Titans’ second score.

All that aside, the defense’s struggles exposed what’s been a month-long deficiency which Allen was finally unable to overcome after having already led two fourth-quarter comeback victories this season.

The 142 points allowed by Buffalo are the most through the first five games of a season since surrendering 176 in 2012. Buffalo’s last four opponents have topped 20 first downs.

The Bills have now allowed two opponents to convert 60% or more of their third-down chances, something they had not done once in McDermott’s first three seasons in Buffalo.

”(The Titans) were ready to go, and at the same time we beat ourselves,” McDermott said. “We have got to be honest with ourselves and say why and make sure we can get this thing fixed here.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Allen to Stefon Diggs connection. Acquired in a trade with Minnesota in March, Diggs continues being Allen’s favorite target, finishing with 10 catches for 106 yards at Tennessee.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

You name it, though a growing concern is a secondary that’s allowed 10 TDs passing, five fewer than all of last season.

STOCK UP

Receiver John Brown showed his value by his absence in missing the game with a knee injury. Without Brown’s threat to stretch the field, the Titans forced Allen to revert to a short passing attack.

STOCK DOWN

Roberts and CB Josh Norman had forgettable outings. Aside from his lost fumble, Roberts had Allen’s first pass attempt go off his hands, leading to the first of Malcolm Butler’s two interceptions. Norman was beaten by A.J. Brown’s 16-yard game-opening touchdown catch, and also flagged twice for pass interference while defending Brown.

INJURED

TE Dawson Knox hurt his calf.

KEY NUMBER

76.5 — Buffalo’s third-down conversion percentage (13 of 17), best since topping 80% twice in 1991. THe Bills dropped to 10-2 with a 50% or better third-down conversion rate since 2017.

NEXT STEPS

McDermott faces former boss and mentor Andy Reid and the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

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AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

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