NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills have seen Josh Allen run for first down after first down since coming into the NFL in 2018.
That's why coach Sean McDermott put the ball in his quarterback's hands yet again on fourth and maybe half a yard rather than kick a tying field goal with 22 seconds left.
This time, Allen's feet went out from under him as the Tennessee Titans jammed the middle, stopping him short and pulling out a 34-31 victory Monday night.
“I felt good about our chances,” McDermott said. “I had a chance to win the game right there and we didn’t get it done.”
Tyler Bass already had made three field goals for Buffalo.
But Allen had converted an NFL-best 24 quarterback sneaks for first downs since 2018, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Against the Titans (4-2), Allen already had carried nine times for 25 yards, including a 5-yard scramble on third down that McDermott said officials initially signaled first down.
Allen certainly pointed first down with his left arm. Officials huddled.
“Then they changed it,” McDermott said. “From what I was told after the game there when I visited with (referee) Clete (Blakeman) then I think they radioed down and changed it.”
Allen didn't get an explanation.
“I think they looked at it on video and I think the call was a good call, so again it’s a game of inches,” Allen said. “We’re not going to try to blow this out of proportion.”
That set up fourth and very short. Allen lined up in the shotgun, then moved up under center for the snap. He took the ball, then his feet seemed to slip out from under him with a trio of Titans' linemen filling the middle and pushing forward. Allen said he didn't have great footing but was happy to have the ball in his hands.
“I take a lot of pride in it," Allen said. "I love Coach McDermott giving me that opportunity. I’ve got to go out there and prove him right. Sometimes the plays don’t go your way.”
According to Sportradar, the Bills were only the fourth team since 2000 to go for it on fourth down while in field goal range at the 30-yard line or closer down three in the final 2 minutes of a game. The other three all converted: the Jets scored on a 1-yard run against the Bills in 2018 with 1:22 left for a win, the Saints also converted in being Atlanta in 2017, and Tampa Bay beat the Saints in 2008.
“I mean, we’re this far from winning the game, and I owe that to my players,” McDermott said of his decision to go for it on fourth down.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel credited his defenders with being prepared and ready. Defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said he anticipated a quarterback sneak and knew immediately that Allen was short.
“That was my gap, and I was able to knock the guard in the backfield and I knew it was short,” Simmons said.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak by the Bills (4-2) heading into their bye. Sending Bass out for a fourth field goal might've given Buffalo a chance to extend that streak, but the Bills backed their coach's decision.
“Coach made a hell of a call at the end,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said. "We’re riding with that all day with it in 17′s hands. QB sneak. It’s a tough one.”
Safety Jordan Poyer agreed, saying they trust their coaches and Allen who had been 10-0 when throwing for at least 300 yards. Allen threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns in this game.
“We just came up a little short,” Poyer said.
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press